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A petition by Argyll First councillors calling for a permanent solution for the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful was heard by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee on Thursday last week.
The petition, which is backed by more than 400 businesses and more than 10,000 members of the public, councillors and MSPs, seeks to ensure the vital lifeline route is not closed because of landslides.
It was lodged following major disruption in 2014. Since then, the road has been closed in early 2016 when a large boulder came loose, closed again for nine days in 2018 following landslides, and closed for two days after the most recent landslips occurred in January this year.
After the session, Argyll First Councillor Donald Kelly told the Courier: ‘The petitions committee has decided yet again to ask for more evidence. We are calling for the committee to firm up the timescales involved to deliver a permanent solution to Rest and Be Thankful saga.
‘The current unacceptable situation cannot be allowed to drag on for much longer. The communities and businesses of Argyll and Bute need a firm commitment from the Scottish Government as to when this issue will be resolved once and for all.’
The same day the petition was heard, Transport Scotland, the national transport agency of Scotland, announced that £1.9 million is to be invested in new landslip mitigation measures at the Rest and Be Thankful.
The money will be spent on the construction a further catch pit at phase one of the hillside. £13.3 million has already been invested in catch pits and other measures along the A83, which Transport Scotland says helped keep the road open for at least 48 days when it would otherwise have been closed.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said: ‘The A83 plays a crucial role for communities and businesses in Argyll. That’s why we’ve invested £79.2 million in its maintenance since 2007, including £13.3 million in landslip mitigation measures and improvements to the Old Military Road diversion route.
‘We have already seen the effectiveness of the catch pit programme and want to build on the existing measures, so work will begin on an additional catch pit at phase one of the hillside.
‘In the longer term, Argyll and Bute is being prioritised in the second strategic transport projects review, meaning recommendations for the region can be among the first reported. It will consider the transport needs and priorities for the whole area.
‘This work underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to continued work with key stakeholders to ensure that Argyll and Bute remains open for business.’
Michael Russell MSP for Argyll and Bute welcomed what he called ‘the Scottish Government’s commitment to prioritising the A83’.
He said: ‘The A83 is absolutely vital for those who live and work in Argyll and Bute and I was deeply concerned in January when a severe landslip lead to 1,000 tonnes of material landing on the road – and in an unusual spot east of where we are used to seeing this and as a result, east of the area which is currently protected from this.
‘The catchpit programme has had a very positive impact, keeping the road open for at least 48 days in which this otherwise would not be possible and so I am glad to see this being expanded.
‘I am also glad that in the longer term, the Scottish Government is making Argyll and Bute a priority in the second strategic transport projects review, this means recommendations for the area including plans for a replacement road can be among the first reported and actioned.’
Donald Cameron MSP for the Highlands and Islands fears that the future of communities in Argyll and Bute could be at risk unless the Scottish Government produces an action plan that will deliver a permanent solution to the ongoing problems.
Mr Cameron said: ‘The public petition on the A83 is one of the longest-running petitions at Holyrood – now seven years and counting – and we are no nearer to learning what ministers consider a permanent solution might look like.
‘Confidence in the future is critical for our business community and they need a reliable and credible partner in government which understands how important our transport infrastructure is. Instead, all we get is a minister saying exactly the sort of things his predecessor might have said when the petition was first lodged seven years ago. How many more years will people have to wait?
‘It’s very difficult to encourage investment and address the threat of rural depopulation in Argyll and Bute while all ministers talk about are sticking-plaster solutions such as installing catch pits for falling debris and proposals for tree planting.
‘Nothing the minister said will reassure local communities that we are anywhere nearer a permanent solution. We don’t need any more reports or consultations. We need a plan, a timetable and action.’
Argyll and Bute Council’s leader, Councillor Aileen Morton, has called for ‘a more substantial commitment to be made’ following the new funding announcement.
Councillor Morton said: ‘The issues with the Rest and Be Thankful have been recognised for over a decade now, a decade in which a sticking plaster approach has been taken by the Scottish Government. This is a vital route for Argyll and Bute, for Scotland, and it’s time for a more substantial commitment to be made.
‘The process the Scottish Government is currently going through to review potential transport projects across the country is a long, drawn out one. This was first suggested as a way forward for the Rest and Be Thankful in October 2018. We have no more information now than we did then and the final strategic transport projects review report isn’t due to be available until spring 2021.
‘Considering the mitigation measures failed yet again Argyll and Bute Council is still asking for a permanent solution to be identified, funded and delivered as a matter of urgency – it is likely to require a substantial sum of money to do this but that must be better than spending more money on works that don’t ultimately solve the problem.’
Councillor Kelly added: ‘It is encouraging that that the leader of the council has again pledged her support. We are also encouraged that given the length of time the petition has been live, more and more people are getting behind it.’