Pressure growing on fix for A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful

The area of concern on the hillside above the A83

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Fresh concerns have been raised with the Scottish Government over the future of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful.

On Thursday, Argyll and Bute Council passed an emergency motion to raise the ‘unacceptable’ issue directly with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, which won cross-party support.

It follows another week marked by heavy rain, closures, uncertainty and 60-mile long diversions for motorists.

The back-up diversion route, the Old Military Road, was shut due to concerns about an ‘unprecedented’ landslide.

The warning from BEAR Scotland came after a huge amount of soil, mud and large boulders on the hillside became unstable after a string of landslips already this year.

The route through the highest part of the A83 has been closed in successive months of August, September, October and November, with months of winter still to run.

The OMR eventually reopened on Friday but will now only do so during daylight hours, between 9.30am and 3.30pm, and entirely dependent on safety inspections and dry weather.

That is due to ongoing uncertainty over a vast and shifting amount of debris above both routes which has seen ‘sentries and spotters’ put on duty to watch the vital 98-mile trunk road which links Tarbet with Campbeltown.

Round-the-clock time lapse cameras and markers have been put in position to capture any sudden shift in the terrain.

And despite progress this year towards finding a multi-million pound alternative route,  the leader of Argyll and Bute Council warned that the permanent solution will not happen any time soon.

A virtual meeting of stakeholders last week heard that any fix would require an extensive legal process to win the necessary permissions to do the works which may take five years alone – irrespective of the actual works to build any new road.

Council leader Robin Currie branded the situation ‘utterly unacceptable and unsustainable’.

‘A long-term solution could take another 10 years. It would be completely unreasonable to expect our communities to wait that long for action that works.

‘Local people are dealing with levels of disruption that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere in Scotland,’ said Councillor Currie, an Islay-based Liberal Democrat.

‘Nothing except action that keeps the road open now is enough.’

Meanwhile politicians representing the area in Holyrood have also crossed swords.

Donald Cameron, opposition Conservative MSP for the Highland and Islands,  condemned what he called a ‘lack of action’ by the SNP during its 13 years in power.

Mr Cameron fumed: ‘It is an inexcusable dereliction of duty on their part and will not be forgiven or forgotten by local people whose jobs and livelihoods are being threatened by this on-going crisis.’

But Michael Russell, the SNP’s outgoing member for Argyll and Bute, branded some of his remarks ‘Tory propaganda’.

Mr Russell, who steps down ahead of next year’s elections to Holyrood, said the problem was ‘the most difficult climate-related transport issue in Britain’.

He said: ‘I was deeply involved in securing the opening of the Old Military Road; I have encouraged on-going work on mitigation; I was part of the push to get agreement on the line of the new road and now I am working on a daily basis with local business, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to find a solution to the new difficulties which will mean, I think, another diversion route to supplement the OMR.’

The viability of using the Glen Croe Forest Track as an alternative is actively being explored.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘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, and a follow-up stakeholder meeting was held virtually last week.

‘There will be further opportunities to participate in the project as design work progresses in the coming months.’