The big clean up goes ahead yet again at the Rest and be Thankful.
By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh & Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie has once again raised the recurring problem at Holyrood of landslides, road closures and unconscionable diversions for motorists and lorry drivers on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful with the Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson.
Her intervention came hot on the heels of BEAR Scotland’s announcement over the weekend that the A83 was closed again, having reopened less than a week earlier, after over 2,000 tonnes of debris , including mud and rocks the size of transit vans, covered the road on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Jackie Baillie MSP, pictured left, asked the Scottish Government to immediately put in place additional mitigation measures to protect the A83 and the Old Military Road and asked the Scottish Government to accelerate the process of finding a permanent solution as promised at the A83 Task Force meeting at the end of August.
She said: “It’s frustrating that yet again the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful is closed, not least because it was only less than a week ago that it reopened following the last landslide.
“I want to thank all the people who are working hard to get the road cleared, but it’s increasingly evident that the mitigation measures are inadequate when faced with the Scottish weather.
“It is vital that the Scottish Government accelerate the process to find a permanent solution to the continued problems on the road.
“Last month the A83 taskforce met and heard that there were 11 potential options for a permanent solution.
“The Scottish Government agreed to accelerate the consultation process on these options with the local community and businesses, but ultimately we need to see an alternative provided in the quickest time possible.
“Every closure is deeply damaging to the Argyll & Bute economy, never mind adding to the frustration of local residents and businesses who rely on the road being open.”
The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson) told MSPs: “I understand the frustration that closures to the A83 bring to local communities and drivers. However, safety remains our key priority.
“Overnight on Saturday, nearly 80mm of rain fell, bringing approximately 5,000 tonnes of material down on to the road. Recovery work commenced quickly thereafter and the old military road opened this morning.
“Work has begun on a further catch pit, with an additional one to follow, as well as a new geotechnical survey of the hillside.
“To accelerate work to consider alternative infrastructure options for the A83, a dedicated project team has been established.
“Design and assessment work is now under way and engagement on the 11 route corridor options will commence in the coming weeks. A preferred route corridor will be announced in March 2021.”
He added: “I recognise the concerns that Jackie Baillie raised. She will acknowledge, though, that the landslip that took place on 4 August is on a new area of the hill where mitigation measures have not previously been installed because they were not anticipated to be required.
“Jackie Baillie will also be aware that in places where mitigation measures have been put in on the Rest and Be Thankful there have now been around 48 occasions on which the road has remained open because the mitigation measures have protected it.
“Therefore, we know that where mitigation measures are put in place they offer protection to the road and help to keep it open.
“We are determined to do everything we can to ensure that we have the appropriate mitigation measures in place while at the same time doing the appropriate work to identify an alternative route for the A83, to ensure that we have a long-term solution to this problem.”
Jackie Baillie persisted: “The A83 task force met at the end of August, and I understand that the cabinet secretary is exploring 11 options for a permanent replacement, as he referenced. I am sure that he will agree that a replacement is urgent—there is cross-party agreement on that between me, Mike Russell and Donald Cameron [MSPs], and also by Argyll and Bute Council.
“What can the cabinet secretary do to accelerate that process, and when will the options be published along with the minutes of the task force meeting?”
Mr Matheson, pictured right, replied: “The member will be aware that some mitigation measures have been put in on the Old Militasry Road as a result of the most recent landslide.
“However, the OMR is largely dependent on the mitigation measures that we have on the Rest and Be Thankful, which is why it is important that we continue the work on that.
“In relation to accelerating the process and looking at the 11 different options, the member will be aware that I have accelerated that process as quickly as I can. I hope that we will be able to start the public consultation on the 11 different options by December.
“I have also put a project team in place now, in order to start the process of dealing with the responses that we received during the consultation to try and accelerate the process as we get to the end of the consultation exercise. That is all aimed at trying to speed up the process as quickly as we can.
“I assure Ms Baillie that I am trying to do as much as I can to ensure that the local community and interested stakeholders have an opportunity to give us feedback on the 11 different options as quickly as they can in order to ensure that we have a long-term solution in place as early as we reasonably can.”