A83 fix could still mean a ‘decade of disruption’

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Argyll and Bute Council has agreed to formally express its ‘deep concern’ to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the ongoing situation regarding the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful and its adjacent diversionary route.

It also emerged that it could take at least five years before work can start on building a new route to replace the current one and several years to construct with a warning that the area could face a ‘decade of disruption’.

Councillors unanimously backed an emergency motion tabled by leader Robin Currie at a full meeting on Thursday, November 26.

The council recently identified a route alongside the existing road as its preferred option out of 11 put forward by Transport Scotland.

Councillor Currie, a Liberal Democrat member, said it was a ‘serious, serious issue’.

He then read from the motion: ‘The impact of decades of disruption at the main A83 is already severe enough.

‘For the secondary diversion route to be similarly affected is utterly unacceptable to the remote, rural and islands communities of Argyll and Bute.

‘At a time of unprecedented challenge, Argyll and Bute’s recovery, let alone its future, demands urgent action – now.

‘Last week’s meeting of A83 stakeholders heard that putting a permanent solution in place, once agreed, could require five or more years to secure the necessary permissions and wayleaves even before construction could start.

‘Then, construction itself would take a number of years more.

‘This effectively asks Argyll and Bute to sustain another decade of the kind of disruption experienced over the last few weeks. This, again, is unsustainable and unacceptable.’

In a list of actions as part of the motion, Councillor Currie then recommended that the council ‘formally expresses its deep concern, shared by Argyll and Bute’s communities and businesses, at the worsening situation where not only is the A83 Rest and Be Thankful currently closed but the vital Old Military Road diversion route is also now increasingly affected by closure due to landslip risk, in writing to the First Minister.

‘{The council] agrees that the potential timescale of another decade before a permanent solution is in place is unacceptable, and that a sustainable interim solution must be identified and implemented urgently to support Argyll and Bute’s economic recovery and resilience and to prevent serious risks to its future success.

‘[The council] calls on the Scottish Government for urgent investigation of any potential interim solutions which can be put in place swiftly, and for use at the very least by emergency services, health transport and haulage traffic as quickly as possible.

‘[This is] to allow access to medical services, the movement of goods to continue in and out of Argyll and Bute, maintaining efficient and timely delivery of supplies to local communities and supporting key local economic sectors like aquaculture, timber haulage and agriculture.

‘[The council] seeks urgent engagement with the relevant agencies to explore the swift progression of that interim solution as soon as possible.

‘[The council] reinforces the need for Argyll and Bute Council to be represented on any steering group or other body involved in the development and oversight of permanent solutions for the A83 as well as any engagement in relation to the interim solution, given its lifeline status and vital importance for the region’s future success.’

The motion was seconded by Councillor Sandy Taylor, leader of the authority’s opposition SNP group, and was backed by all the councillors present at the meeting.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘We understand the frustration and disruption that landslips bring for local communities and road users, which is why the cabinet secretary instructed officials to accelerate work to consider alternative infrastructure options for the A83.

‘Eleven options were developed for public consultation, receiving around 600 pieces of feedback from road users, stakeholders and local residents.

‘We welcome the participation of Argyll and Bute Council in the consultation and look forward to working with them during the scheme development process.

‘Recommendations on a preferred long term solution will be made in spring 2021.

‘The Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson chaired the latest A83 Taskforce meeting in August, where he met with elected members and representatives from community and business groups.

‘A follow up meeting was held virtually last week where stakeholders were updated on the additional mitigation works undertaken in response to the current event.

‘We also agreed to work with stakeholders to explore further measures to add resilience to local diversions in the area.’