Letters to the editor – March 5, 2021

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£80 million spent, to little effect

Sir,

I see that a business group has been set up to press for an expeditious solution to the current problems at the Rest. Not before time.

I was supportive of the mitigation plan, using nets and catch pits, as the simplest and least expensive approach. It was certainly worth a try, but it is abundantly clear now – with reputedly £80 million spent – that it is not working.

The 100,000 tonnes or more poised to come down on the road may well be an underestimate, and recent closures of the OMR, despite the new bund, doesn’t say very much for the efficacy of the protection. So we need an alternative, and we need it soon, not 10 years away.

Talk of ‘alternative traffic corridors’ is just a distraction.

There may well be a case for a bridge-and-tunnel approach. Such has been successful in Norway and – notably – both in Iceland and Faroe Islands, which have much smaller resource bases than Norway. But these would be long-term schemes, each requiring the completion of several major interlinked crossings, for the like of which Scotland’s roads authority has hitherto shown neither interest nor aptitude.

The problem at the Rest is a local one which requires a local solution. It’s only a mile or so of road which is at issue there.

The alternatives, realistically, boil down to three:

  • Overhead protection of the existing A83.
  • A tunnel through to Glen Kinglas.
  • A new alignment up the south west side of the glen.

Overhead protection might well be required over quite a long distance, as it’s not just the bit at the catch pits which is threatened. The slopes of the Cobbler have experienced slides too. Since the hillside varies it might not be possible to use standard prefabricated modules, and in any case installation work would close the A83 for some time.

A tunnel through to Butterbridge could be driven quite quickly – particularly if the Norwegians did it – but the approach in upper Glen Croe would require protection just like the OMR. Sir William Lithgow’s proposal mentions this, but construction would also almost certainly close the OMR, leaving no diversion for that period.

The construction of a new alignment up the south west side of the glen, however, either on or roughly parallel to the existing forestry road, would avoid interference with through traffic.

Both the gradient and the transverse slope would be substantially similar to those of the existing A83, though the length would be marginally greater, which is probably why the north east side was chosen when the ‘new’ A83 was built.

The core of the case for the third option, however, is that the south west side of the glen has experienced far less erosion, both historically and in recent years, than the north east one.

Stand at the upper viewpoint, or better still a little way along the Lochgoilhead road, and look around. The slopes of Ben Luibhean on which the A83 runs show far more watercourses and gullies than any of the others in the vicinity.

This indicates a lot more rainfall impacting that slope, probably by the prevailing weather being funnelled on to it through the pass at the top of Glen More. And that weather is becoming worse.

There have been no major slips over the forestry road in recent years, despite a spate of them on the opposite slope. It may just be the trees. I don’t think so, but in any case the trees are there, while it would take some years for tree cover to established above the A83.

Going back a lot further in time, the pattern is the same. The burn in the floor of upper Glen Croe has been pushed, over the centuries, by slip debris coming down from the north east slope, and the depth of that debris can easily be seen in the gullies recently carved in it behind the new bund.

There is also a fair number of impressively-sized boulders on the lower slopes on that side, which at some point rolled down the hillside. Some of these came from the Cobbler, and although most are below the road a few are not. There is nothing to say that more will not arrive.

A further point is that while the lower slopes on each side of the upper glen are similar, those on the south west side ease off towards the top, while those on the NE slope do not.

It is on these upper slopes that the small slips develop which can pick up more and more water and debris on their way down, hence the fan shape of the typical slip. There is, in other words, a lot less potential for the initiation of slips on the south west side.

I think that this all points to the need for a serious look at the forestry road, and I fail to understand why the investigations a few years ago dismissed it as a viable alternative.

It’s the existing A83 which isn’t viable. And why any of these solutions would take 10 years to complete also beats me. Local objections? There is only one house in upper Glen Croe, and in the rest of Argyll I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want a permanent solution.

My suspicion is that the biggest difficulty is that Transport Scotland can’t yet find a way to explain how £80 million could be spent to such little effect. I might, of course, be wrong in all this, but I wait to be convinced of it.

Arthur Blue, Ardrishaig

Build an A83 viaduct

Sir,

Since the temporary repairs to the Rest are clearly getting nowhere and costing money into the bargain, I would like to suggest a radical solution to the problem, and that is to build a viaduct right down the centre of the valley, based on the design of the Millau
viaduct in central France.

For those not familiar with this structure, it is well worth an internet search. I believe this is still the world’s tallest bridge and is a really beautiful structure.

Seen from a distance, the white deck and piers look quite unreal – more
like a computer-generated image against the dark green forested hills. The viaduct was completed in 2001 at a cost of £400 million, so that might equate to £1 billion at today’s prices.

Before anyone asks where that sum of money is to be found, I would point out that Boris Johnson’s proposed tunnel to Northern Ireland may cost between £10 billion and £15 billion – nobody knows because it hasn’t been designed yet. Nevertheless, Alister Jack is extremely enthusiastic about the proposal, so clearly money is not a problem.

Not only would this new viaduct solve the problem once and for all, I suspect that, like the Millau Viaduct, it would become a much-photographed tourist attraction.

John McCall, Lochgilphead

Cost of Union Unit

Sir,

In last week’s Argyllshire Advertiser, Councillor Alastair Redman criticises the SNP for setting aside £600,000 of its own money to campaign for an independent Scotland.

Not surprisingly, he fails to enlighten us as to the costs of  the Tory party’s ‘Union Unit’ set up by the Prime Minister at the taxpayers’ expense.

David Hay, Minard

An unnecessary distraction

Sir,

Due to the speed with which the NHS is carrying out its vaccination programme, there is hope that we can soon all get out again and return to normal.

We still, however, face huge challenges. The economy has suffered. The NHS faces a big backlog of cancelled operations. Our young people have a lot of schooling to catch up on. We don’t have much time left to stop our climate changing before it is too late.

Here in Argyll the Scottish Government must rise to the challenge of building a permanent solution at the Rest and Be Thankful.

These must be our priorities. We can’t afford to spend the next few years arguing over independence. That’s an unnecessary distraction.

We need a needle-sharp focus on the recovery without the distraction of another divisive referendum.

Put recovery first.

Councillor Alan Reid, Cowal ward

Mr Reid is the Argyll and Bute LibDem candidate for May’s Scottish parliamentary election