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It is time for a ‘meaningful conversation’ on the construction of tunnels to improve Argyll’s connectivity to the rest of Scotland.
Enthused by a trip earlier this month to the Faroe Islands, Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara believes it is time for different mindsets in Scotland.
The message from engineers, though, is one of caution.
With recent problems in mind with landslides blocking the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful, and considering the geography of Argyll and Bute, Mr O’Hara made the trip to the Faroe Islands as a fact-finding exercise.
He said: ‘I’m not an engineer nor am I a geologist, and while the west of Scotland may not be identical to the Faroe Islands, there must be things we can learn from what Faroese to better connect our rural communities.’
The Faroe Islands has a network of 44 tunnels, both sub-sea and through mountains.
Mr O’Hara visited the Eysturoy sub-sea tunnel, currently under construction, which will be 11 kilometres long and will link the island of Eysturoy with Tórshavn, cutting journey time from more than an hour to less than 15 minutes.
According to Mr O’Hara, the cost of a tunnel through a mountain is 100 million DK per kilometre (£12.5 million). He added: ‘These figures are remarkable, particularly when compared with the £520 million the Jacobs Report quoted back in 2012 for a tunnel at the Rest and be Thankful.
‘I want this visit to be the start of a meaningful conversation, not just with Transport Scotland or Argyll and Bute Council and the Scottish Government, but with people the length and breadth of this vast constituency to gauge opinion on how we harness this remarkable technology to benefit our communities.’
The Institution of Civil Engineers’ Scotland director, Sara Thiam, said that Scotland’s civil engineers have the know-how and expertise to tunnel through the hills and under the lochs of Argyll.
She explained: ‘Recent engineering feats include the delivery of a three mile long waste water tunnel under Glasgow, and Glasgow-based engineers helped deliver a massive tunnel in Stockholm.
There are, however, many competing priorities for spending, added Ms Thiam, so ‘the real challenge is to assess if such a high cost option could deliver jobs and inclusive growth.’
She went on: ‘We also need to consider the number of people who would benefit from such an investment and whether it delivers economic and social wellbeing.’
A new group called ‘Infrastructure for Scotland’ promotes awareness of tunnels and other fixed links. Donald Morris of the group said: ‘Tunnels and other fixed links would be of great benefit to Argyll and Bute and would go a long way to addressing the long term issues of population decline, loss of services and a weak economy.’