BUSINESSES will go to the wall by the end of the year because of an over 15-year failure to prevent landslips on a notorious lifeline Scots road - which could be solved with a Norway-style tunnel in three years.

That is the stark warning of a newly formed campaign - backed by 1500 businesses - which has issued a deadline of 2024 to finally resolve the issues with the infamous A83 at Rest and be Thankful which has been disrupted for seven months due landslips and the threat of falling boulders.

The Rest and Be Thankful Campaign, which is backed by business leaders from across Argyll, Kintyre, Mid Argyll and Cowal and supported by the Road Haulage Association and NFU Scotland are not happy that there is still no timetable to resolve the issues.

They were first uncovered 17 years ago when Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland  placed the key Highlands artery among the most highly-ranked debris flow hazard sites in Scotland.

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Transport Scotland last week announced a preferred alternative to the A83 via five possible alternative routes at Glen Croe which could include a tunnel up to 1.8 miles - but no timescale or costs have been announced for the permanent solution.

Ministers have previously been accused of wasting nearly £80 million on more than a decade of failed solutions to landslides on the road with some locals calling for a public inquiry.

Businesses hit by the the disruption have registered their disgust and many have now talked of how transport chiefs have "deaf ears".

Keith Campbell, managing director at Argyll Holidays, said the failure to resolve the issues with the A83 will see companies fold.

“Covid-19 has had a major impact on the tourism and hospitality industry and its recovery will be hard, especially as we compete with more accessible parts of Scotland and the UK," he said.

“Without a robust, and safe temporary solution to the Rest and Be Thankful we could experience a devastating double whammy in the tourism and hospitality sector in Argyll, with many businesses not surviving the year.”

The campaign launched by Inverneill resident John Gurr and backed by business leaders from across Argyll, Kintyre, Mid Argyll and Cowal and supported by the Road Haulage Association and NFU Scotland want transport secretary Michael Matheson to scrap the 10-year recovery plan and implement a timescale of two to five years.

Campaign chairman John Gurr supported a suggestion made to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from engineer Sir William Lithgow, one of the biggest landowners in Argyll and former owner of Campbeltown Shipyard, who has been championing a practical tunnel solution to the Rest and be Thankful problem. He has advised ministers to speak to engineers in Norway who have many years’ experience in building solutions to the problems experienced at the RABT.

Using the Norwegian model he has costed a tunnel solution at £54.6m which could be in place within three years, rather than between £268 million and £860 million and 10 years once quoted by Transport Scotland and their advisors Jacobs.

In his letter Mr Gurr said he was confident that the capital costs will be recovered both in savings in the "considerable ongoing taxpayer expenditure and in the costs to the area of the ongoing disruption and blight". He added: "The lifeline needs to be secured."

Mr Gurr said: "This is not being taken seriously by the government or Transport Scotland. The announcement on Thursday although welcome has effectively put us back to where we were nine years ago when Transport Scotland announced its options for resolving the issues at the RABT.

"We look on with dismay at further delay and dither while five options they have known about for the past nine years are considered.

"They are more interested in following procedures, and statutory consultation - which is only statutory because the Scottish Government say it is. They should be cutting the red tape, and banging heads together at Transport Scotland so that they act on what should be a simple decision, deliver what will last, a solution to cope with the unstable hillside environment in Glen Croe. "If Transport Scotland were a business they would be out of business by now, its time to get better advice and deliver a solution.

"We have offered to speak to Michael Matheson, and Transport Scotland to provide support from the 1,500 businesses our group represents and speed up the consultation process, and to introduce them to the Norwegian engineers that have a ready made solution to this problem, but so far or offer has fallen on deaf ears."

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A helicopter was used in August to make a 100 tonne boulder safe by using water bags to manoeuvre it into a safe location

In November, 2019, the Campbeltown Creamery closed due to lack of investment, and the campaigners say milk now has to travel from Argyll to Ayr to be processed - using the notorious road. The campaign also wanred that the extra costs for tankers caused by regular up to 59-mile diversions when the road is shut "puts the viability of dairy farming at risk".

"As a double whammy for farmers, transporting livestock to market presents additional welfare issues for animals as delays and diversion to an already long journey cannot always be made in one go so the journey then has to be broken into stages making the movement uneconomic," said Mr Gurr.

"The diversion along the A82 route is a cost but is also poses a risk with increased HGV traffic on a road that is not wide enough to travel safely.

"And the region's tourist industry is put at risk when it’s too difficult, unpredictable to travel, this is particularly so with Inveraray which rely heavily on coach tours and day trippers from Glasgow."

After a landslide in January, 2020, Mr Matheson effectively dismissed calls for the permanent re-routing solution and instead decided to spend £1.9m on another attempt to catch any landslip fall, a big pit at Glen Croe. The important Highlands route was barely open in any way for three weeks in the five months to mid-January after a landslip brought about by rain blocked the road in August.

Since January, transport chiefs adopted a strategy that was to see the the main road used during the day when weather conditions permit.

During the night-time, the single track alternative route, the Old Military Road (OMR) was to be used, which also is run through a single file convoy system, where drivers are escorted along the route.

But since further landslips and threats of falling boulders have caused further disruption and huge diversions.

Jane MacLeod, secretary at Mid Argyll Chamber of Commerce, said: “Over the years there has been an increasing number of landslides at the Rest and Be Thankful and despite a recent spend in mitigations measures at the OMR, landslides and slips continue to force the road and the alternative OMR to close. This is having a major impact on local businesses in the area and the Scottish Government should sit up and listen.”

Earlier this month, the key route had to be totally shut for five days following fears of huge boulders falling from a nearby hill.

On February 21, both the A83 and the OMR had to be shut a matter of days after another landslide. It was estimated around 250 tonnes of debris reached the OMR overnight.

That is despite another £1m being spent on 175-metre long, 6.6 metre high barrier having been built next to the OMR to stop debris from a potential landslip.

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The Scottish Government's transport agency's route manager Neil MacFarlane recently told community leaders in the area that 2020 saw 20,000 tonnes fall onto the infamous A83 at the Rest and be Thankful – double what has fallen in nearly two decades.

And he warned that Transport Scotland was looking at 12 options to prevent further calamity with "100,000 tonnes on the move on the hill".

Hauliers have told how an eight-hour round trip from Glasgow to Campbeltown take ten hours when diversions are in place."

Peter McKerral, director of farming and haulage firm Peter McKerral & Co Ltd, estimates delays and detours have impacted his business by £200,000 on extra fuel costs, increased journey and waiting times, in must six months.

“As a business reliant on the Rest and Be Thankful we have been dealing with Transport Scotland for over 10 years. We have offered a range of temporary solutions including the use of Forest Road on the opposite side of Glen Croe, an area clear of the landslide deposit. This and other solutions have continued to fall on deaf ears," he said.

“A new £1m barrier wall on the OMR, which was supposed to be the solution hasn’t worked and was evident at the weekend when the OMR was closed due to landslides. This is a wasted investment, and the project should be an absolute embarrassment to whoever is in charge.”

The campaign says delays and diversion impact farming and the movement of livestock is creating animal welfare concerns.

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The five remaining options for a permanent solution

It warns that public transport provides a lifeline to hospitals and other medical hubs in the central belt and the ongoing road closures and detours result in missed appointments and a "lack of confidence" in public transport.

Charles Black, director at wholesale and retail baker and confectioner, said: “The closure of the road not only isolates local people it is having disastrous consequences for the local economy and businesses who need the road open to deliver and receive goods and services.” the Rest and Be Thankful is the highest point of a scenic ten-mile route running from Tarbet to the A83's junction with the B828. The words Rest and be Thankful are inscrbied on a stone near the junction, placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753, now referred to as the Drovers' Road.

Matthew Mundell, operations manager at B Mundell Haulage, said: “It is baffling to understand why the Scottish Government is not taking the landslides and slips at the Rest and Be Thankful seriously, especially after the fatal landslide in Stonehaven last year. “Immediate action is required now, not in 10 years."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “It’s too early to say at this stage what the cost will be, this will be looked at in detail as part of the route option assessment work. However, the preliminary assessment work undertaken to date estimates that costs for potential route options within the preferred route corridor to be in the range £268 million to £860 million, at current prices.

“The broad range reflects the early stage of development of the scheme and gives a truer picture of the inherent risks and uncertainties associated with planning and constructing such a major piece of infrastructure. As the design and assessment of route options within the preferred corridor is progressed a more detailed estimate for each option will be developed.”