A solution to the Rest, or a ‘pre-election promise’?

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Islands and Connectivity

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A new section of the A83 through Glen Croe is to be built to bypass the landslide-prone Rest and be Thankful.

The announcement, made by Transport Scotland on March 18, comes after ‘a preliminary assessment’ of the 11 route corridor options revealed in September 2020.

The news was, however, given a lukewarm response by a campaign group, whose chairperson said the lack of firm dates made it appear ‘a fluffy pre-election promise’.

The government agency received more than 650 responses to a public consultation before settling on Glen Croe corridor (Option 1) as its preferred route, describing it as ‘more cost effective and quicker to deliver, having significantly less environmental constraints’ than the alternatives.

The chosen route will pass through Glen Croe

The A83 through Glen Croe has been hit by multiple closures due to landslides since as far back as 2007, with a Transport Scotland official recently claiming that around 100,000 tonnes of soil and rock is ‘on the move’ towards the lifeline trunk road.

Pressure has been building within Argyll for the Scottish Government to act quickly to resolve the issue.

The local authority and some politicians would like an alternative route completed within the term of the next Scottish parliament – but a new Argyll business group, The Rest and be Thankful Campaign, is pressing for a solution within three years.

Making the announcement, Transport Scotland said: ‘Public feedback has stressed the need to move quickly and we will be mindful of the impact of that on programme delivery, placing particular weight on the timescales that options may take to deliver as we move into the route options assessment stage.

‘The range of options spans traditional roads and localised structural protection to full tunnel options with a difference in construction timescales of up to two years for full tunnel options. The detailed assessment will also consider construction risk, cost and environmental impact of the options and a Statutory Environmental Assessment will be published in April.’

Mitigation works at the Rest and be Thankful will carry on meantime, with a new debris cage, catchpit, debris fencing and flood mitigation planned.

Medium term improvements are also being considered to improve the route through Glen Croe, including  the forestry track, old military road and other options on public land.

Landslides continue to affect the A83 route at the Rest and be Thankful. Photo: BEAR Scotland.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP said: ‘Following the disruption caused by landslips at the A83 Rest and be Thankful, I understand the frustration and disruption that these bring for local communities and road users.

‘We are progressing substantial short term investment in the existing A83 including installing a debris cage and new culvert, construction of an additional catchpit, debris fencing and flood mitigation measures at the River Croe crossing.

‘I can also announce today that I have asked Transport Scotland to progress work to look at a medium term resilient route through Glen Croe including consideration of the forestry track, the old military road and other options on land already owned by Scottish Ministers. Depending on the statutory consents required, this work will seek to develop finalised proposals within 18 months.

‘Along with this work on the existing A83, we are working in parallel to identify a permanent solution to the road at the Rest and be Thankful. Following the conclusion of the preliminary assessment of the corridor options under consideration the preferred corridor has been identified as the Glen Croe corridor, Option 1.

‘Identifying the preferred route corridor is a major step forward for this vital work and we are now pushing forward to look at five alternative options within that online corridor and starting the process shortly to appoint design consultants for this work.

‘As I made clear at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee last week, I have asked Transport Scotland to accelerate the preparation and delivery of the scheme where possible given the importance of the route to local communities and road users.

‘However, we are required to follow the correct statutory process to ensure a fair and transparent assessment of options and impacts on local communities and road users.

‘From today the new Story Map portal will provide regular updates on the design work as we look at alternative options within the preferred route corridor. We are also encouraging those with an interest to provide feedback on the preferred route corridor and possible route options between now and the end of May.

‘All of this work underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to continued work with key stakeholders and local communities to ensure that Argyll and Bute remains open for business.’

John Gurr, chairperson of The Rest and be Thankful Campaign chairperson, gave the news a lukewarm reception.

‘Whilst we welcome today’s announcement and the preferred option of Glen Croe, said Mr Gurr, ‘we are still no further forward in terms of timescales.

‘As we move into day 230 of the Rest and be Thankful being closed or disrupted, we urge Mr Matheson to put deliverable dates against this project.

‘Our request of a completion date of May 2024 has once again fallen on deaf ears and without any mention of any dates it feels very much like a fluffy pre-election promise.’