One loud voice for Argyll and the Rest

Chairman of the Rest and be Thankful Campaign, John Gurr

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A workable solution to the Rest could be thrashed out inside a week, according to the founder of a business-led campaign group.

Coming from a commercial background, chairman of the Rest and be Thankful (RABT) Campaign, John Gurr is frustrated at the ‘elongated’ approach being taken by Transport Scotland.

The campaign group, made up of Argyll members representing no fewer than 1,500 varied businesses – from haulage to farming and tourism to public transport – was formed early in 2021.

‘I thought to myself that the continual disruption at the Rest must really have an impact on businesses, so it grew from there,’ explained Mr Gurr.

Three significant landslides closed the lifeline A83 trunk road at the Rest and be Thankful in 2020 as heavy rainfall brought down more material on to the road than during every landslide combined since 2007.

The landslide risk is getting more severe and a Transport Scotland engineer recently revealed that an estimated 100,000 tonnes of soil and rock is on the move above the road.

Many millions have been spent on landslide mitigation, yet nature continues to get the better of the Scottish Government’s efforts to date.

The RABT campaign estimates that the Rest cost its haulage members an extra 2.4m between August 2020 and March 2021, with extra time to every run all adding cost.

A current Transport Scotland review estimates that a decade will pass before a new route is built, but the group wants a permanent solution by May 2024.

It also seeks a two-way, 24/7  temporary alternative route to be built in 2021.

With a more business-like approach, John Gurr believes it could be done.

Following his retirement, he and his wife Louise settled in Inverneill from Hampshire in January 2020. The couple and their family are familiar with Kintyre after holidaying there for many years, but Mr Gurr says he’s still finding his way around the ‘hidden gem’ of Mid Argyll.

He was with Kingfisher Group – owner of B&Q and Screwfix – for 30 years, latterly as director for the upstream supply chain, bringing products to UK and European stores from around the globe and responsible for a £10billion annual spend.

He wants to see a different ‘level of thinking’ on the Rest, adding: ‘It’s about what could be done for an area that would encourage tourism, allow businesses to thrive and populations to grow.

‘Put in the infrastructure and people and businesses will follow; things become self-sustaining.

‘It’s there for big cities.’

He continued: ‘If you think about the best investment to get a return on your money, from a business perspective you’d put your money where the biggest return is – and that’s where you have a bigger population.

‘But we’re talking about a connectivity that’s vital to the survival of the region, and about being cut-off.’

The RABT aims to serve as a single, loud voice for Argyll and the Isles.

‘I don’t think we’ve had a voice in Argyll that has shouted loudly enough to cause a pain in the side of a transport minister or Transport Scotland,’ explained Mr Gurr.

The campaign has already made its presence felt.

Mr Gurr continued: ‘We’ve sat down with Transport Scotland but were told what was happening. They weren’t really listening.

‘But I think we’ve changed the tone slightly and they are now saying they have to fix it.

‘Transport Scotland has come up with arguments as to why they need to go through this elongated consultation process. We think there’s another way.

‘They say they want to consult with the local community, but between us and the politicians, we represent the local population.

‘So if we sat down for a week in a workshop with Transport Scotland we could cut through all of that, come up with an agreement and a solution. We could do that tomorrow, and that’s what our group and the MSPs have offered the Transport Minister.

‘They also want to be fair to landowners. You only need to pick up a phone and do a deal rather than taking years and involving lawyers and all the rest of it.

‘Then they talk about the environmental considerations. Look at the impact they’ve already caused with bunds and scars on the landscape – without these environmental consultations.

‘So they can’t tell me that they can’t overcome this.’

In the spirit on ‘one voice’ a cross-party group of constituency and regional MSPs has been set up – holding its first meeting with the RABT group earlier this week – and a briefing document drawn up for MSPs.

Mr Gurr added: ‘They also need to make it an emergency, because the Scottish Government then has powers to just do it.

‘We think it’s an emergency. We wanted them to do something before last year’s landslides happened.

‘The government has a duty of care to its people. They should be providing the means by which the economy can thrive, and they are not doing it.

‘I think we want to shout about this and make it really uncomfortable for them.’

Visit therestandbethankfulcampaign.com for more information on the campaign.