Rest and be Thankful: £8.5m of public money ‘wasted’ on ‘sticking plaster’ fixes in five years
By Martin Williams in the Glasgow Herald
SOME £8.5m has been ‘wasted’ on temporary ‘sticking plaster’ fixes to try to prevent landslips on one of Scotland’s key roads over five years.
Anger has erupted after it was confirmed that a further £3.5m has now been sent aside for more catchpits as part of a new stage of landslip mitigation measures at the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful.
It will pave the way for nine months of disruption on what is Scotland’s most notorious road.
Construction of the latest catch-pit on the landslip-prone road was completed last month having taken over twice as long to install as promised.
Scottish Government-appointed maintenance firm Bear Scotland said the mitigation measure which started in September, last year, was to take up to five months to complete.
Now it has been confirmed that a further £3.5m is to be spent on the construction of a further catch-pit next to the trunk road, and will be located at the foot of the steep sided channel formed by the major landslides in August and September last year.
The catch pits are designed to ‘capture’ debris material from a landslip and prevent it from reaching the road.
Bear Scotland, which was appointed by Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland, says that when the sixth catch-pit is constructed, it will provide an additional 1,600 tonnes of debris storage capacity, bringing the total volume protection of the catch-pits to approximately 21,600 tonnes.
It comes amidst growing criticism over money “wasted” over failed temporary fixes to the A83.
Moves over the latest measures to prevent road closures came after a major landslip around 650 feet above the carriageway shut the road in August, last year.
Engineers said thousands of tonnes of debris including car-sized boulders slid onto the road after 100mm of rain hit the Argyll hills.
One of the landslip mitigation catch-pits, built to prevent landslip material reaching the road, caught around 2,000 tonnes – but it did not stop thousands more tonnes hitting the road.
The slip ushered in a series of road closures for the important Highlands route which by January had meant it was open for barely three weeks in the space of five months.
In February the A83 and the official single track diversion route, the Old Military Road which runs through the centre of Glen Croe was shut after hundreds of tons of debris fell in another landslip.
A campaign – backed by 1500 businesses fought for a permanent solution by 2024 after an over 15-year failure to prevent disruption.
Transport minister Graeme Dey said that improving the resilience of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful “is one of our top priorities” and that they were continuing to work on a permanent long term solution to the issue.
John Gurr, chairman of The Rest and Be Thankful Campaign said: “It is a lot of money spent on things that are not going to stop the landslips and not going to keep the road open. Even with the new catch pits the A83 will still be closed when it rains, and we are unlikely to have a two way road back in operation for another 10 months.
“We still do not know what the plans are for a permanent solution. We need Transport Scotland make a decision and deliver a resilient solution far faster than planned 10 years’ time.” Another campaigner said: “This money would never have been needed to have been spent had the problems here been properly recognised in the first place and dealt with properly. Instead we have had many years of prevaricating and the consequent waste of money.”
A helicopter was used in August to make a 100 tonne boulder safe by using water bags to manoeuvre it into a safe location.
Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: “Motorists have suffered misery on this key route for far too long. It is completely unacceptable that millions more of public money is set to be flung at the Rest and Be Thankful, without any guarantees that it will solve any problems.
“Eye-watering amounts of money have been spent over the years, but there still appears to be no end in sight.
“SNP ministers have had years to find a solution for the Rest and Be Thankful and must deliver that permanent solution as a matter of urgency.
“Constant closures and diversions are only harmful to the local economy the longer they go on. I will continue to push the SNP-Green Government to ensure that this critical route for rural communities is fit for purpose as soon as possible.”
Eddie Ross, Bear Scotland’s north west representative said: “Since the landslides occurred, we have introduced measures aimed at making travel through Glen Croe more resilient, including the provision of debris fences, improvements to surface water management, the construction of a significant temporary bund on the Old Military Road. Most recently, we have resurfaced the Old Military Road to significantly improve the condition of the local diversion route when its use becomes necessary.
“Construction of the new catch-pit is a complex operation given the nature of the area within which it is to be built, and we will have geotechnical specialists on site daily to monitor the works as they progress over the coming months.
“We thank all road users and the local community for their continued patience while we do everything we can to progress with the ongoing mitigation measures at the Rest.”
A new A83 route which could include a tunnel close to the A83 has been identified as the Scottish Government’s favoured permanent solution – but it is a long-term solution which could take seven to ten years to complete after being approved.
But that choice has now led to five new options on the table for the new Glen Croe route, some of which include tunnels up to 1.8 miles long.
Transport Minister Graeme Dey said: “As well as bringing in short and medium term measures to increase resilience, we continue to progress work on a permanent long term solution to the issue. We appreciate that the timescale to develop an alternative route is frustrating for the local community, but we will look to bring forward the programme where we can.”
Meanwhile, at the SNP annual conference ….