A83 Rest and Be Thankful (Closure)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th September 2020.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what mitigation measures are being considered to deal with the continuing closure of the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. (S5T-02387)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

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.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Members will know that the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful was first closed due to a landslip on 4 August. The diversion route through the old military road has been closed for part of that time, too. One week after it reopened—just last week—it has been closed due to another landslip.

Therefore, I share the cabinet secretary’s frustration, as do local people. I know that he will want to join me in thanking all those who are working to clear the road. However, the mitigation is frankly no match for Scottish weather. What will the cabinet secretary do to protect not only the A83 but the diversion route on the old military road?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

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.

Jackie Baillie will be aware that a further catch pit is being installed on the road at present. Work was started on 1 September. It was postponed at the request of the local authority and other interested stakeholders to avoid any delay during the summer months. The work commenced on 1 September, and a further catch pit is being designed at present for the area where the new landslip took place. That work will be undertaken once the present catch pit is completed, so that the workers can move to the new site.

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.

I add my thanks to the workers who have worked through very difficult conditions in a very challenging environment to ensure that we continue to repair the damage that has been caused on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

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, 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?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I want to pick up on a point that Jackie Baillie made in her second supplementary question. I am sorry that I did not touch on it. It was about protection for the OMR

. The member will be aware that some mitigation measures have been put in on the OMR 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 the member 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.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

Yesterday, I was in discussions with BEAR Scotland about the relief road situation on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful in respect of the adverse weather during the coming winter. Could I advise the cabinet secretary to consider a northbound relief route on the south-side forestry track at Glen Croe and a southbound relief route on the old military road, as it is now, to be open 24/7 so that we basically have two roads of one-way traffic?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The member might be aware that the forestry road on the other side of the glen is not up to the necessary standard for carrying traffic flow of that nature. The second particular difficulty with his suggestion on the OMR operating 24 hours a day is that it is dependent on safety assessments. A blanket 24-hour operation on the OMR is not always safe.

Safety audits are carried out in the morning and evening in order to make sure that the OMR is operating safely.

I can assure the member that we will continue to do everything we can to try to address the local frustration that I know is caused when that major road is closed as a result of landslips. The work that I set out in my response to Jackie Baillie demonstrates our determination to make sure that we do all we can to resolve the issue.