COMPLETION of an emergency diversion of the A83 Rest and Be Thankful, which has been closed five times in five years due to falling debris, has been delayed by more than two months.

Landslide warning lights on the key route into mid-Argyll were turned on again this week but it now seems likely it will be at least February before work on the alternative route along the old military road is finished. This route is seen as a lifeline for business and residents, who face lengthy diversions when the A83 is closed.

The work had been due to be finished by now, with Transport Minister Keith Brown saying in mid-August it would take 12 weeks to complete.

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However, Mr Brown's prediction was "subject to agreement with the landowner" with work only beginning following the signing of a formal legal agreement this week. A spokesman for Transport Scotland stressed the delay had been due to the complexities of the legal process completing what is a voluntary agreement, and that the landowners were being very helpful.

A convoy system will work on the 2.36 miles of single-track road if the A83 is closed by landslide. One-third of it will be on private land, but Transport Scotland said that to have pursued a compulsory purchase would have been more expensive, taken longer and would have been open to legal challenge causing more delays.

Local businesses say completion of the diversion is urgently required given the 50-mile detour by Crianlarich, or travel by the Gourock/Dunoon ferry, they face when a landslide occurs. The falling earth and rock is due to surrounding hillsides becoming overloaded with heavy rainfall.

Adriano Pia, owner of the Royal Burgh Cafe in Inveraray, said "We are just on edge all the time. Every time it rains we fear the road is going to be closed. Visitors who would come on a Friday and go back on the Monday, are now leaving on the Sunday in case they have to travel that long detour.."

Mr Brown said: "I am acutely aware of the community's desire to see an emergency route in place and I am delighted more progress has been made in recent weeks towards bringing the Old Military Road up to the standard required. Foundation works, tarmac and drainage works on those sections of road not on private land are very nearly complete.

"Having always been subject to a formal, legally binding agreement with the landowner – an agreement which has now been signed – the contractor is able to move plant and equipment on to the private land and full construction works are now under way on this section of the emergency route."