A PUBLIC spending watchdog is being urged to sanction Transport Scotland executives for forging ahead with a £150m upgrade to a Loch Lomond road without conducting legally required impact assessments.

Helensburgh and District Access Trust (HADAT) believes Transport Scotland’s decision to build the upgraded A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan on the same line as the old road, which is currently considered narrow and dangerous, is a "disaster" for the ten mile stretch of Loch Lomond’s Bonnie Banks.

The group says that Transport Scotland is not proceeding in a "legal fashion" by going ahead with the project without completing an analysis that compares that route with an alternative high route.

They say that Transport Scotland has failed to plan for the road using the Scottish Transport Analysis Guidance (STAG), which says impact studies should be carried out on places affected. They say it is a "stipulated legal requirement".

As a consequence, they say Transport Scotland are currently spending public money on detailed design work by consultants for a route which is not "the best for the public".

The process of developing and assessing the preferred route has passed the seven-year mark.

Transport Scotland has already offered a £50,000 contract for a Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) traffic and economics audit to the Glasgow officers of the US engineering consultancy giant AECOM without going to a competitive tender.

Some £3.36m has already been spent on ground investigation works for the design and construction of the preferred option.

An artist's impression of what the proposed scheme will look like 15 years after opening based on design date in August 2021.

The plan is to upgrade the A82 along the north-west shore of the loch, a stretch long regarded as an impediment to good road transport links between the central belt of Scotland and the west Highlands HADAT says that plan to follow an existing shoreline road will compoun disturbance which it says has long damaged the zone of exceptional ecological, scenic and recreational value.

They say ironing out of bends will destroy irreplaceable Atlantic oak woodland.

And they say the new road will mostly be right on the shoreline, damaging scenery and wildlife habitat.

They say noise from the faster traffic will be a constant instrusion.

They have advocated a better solution to build the new road above an existing railway line, which would help to preserve the natural environment.

HDAT has now raised the their concerns with Audit Scotland saying that Transport Scotland do not have the authority to employ consultants to undertake detailed design work on the A82 shore route until they have completed a comparison with the alternative route.

It is calling on Audit Scotland to recommend how Transport Scotland "might proceed in a legal fashion" by carrying out a comparison analysis and an impact assessments. And it is asking for recommendations "on sanctions on Transport Scotland executives for ignoring clear requirements and spending public money without authority".

HDAT says the Scottish Government's transport agency has denied that they are required to carry out a STAG analysis for a road scheme.

Dr Geoff Riddington, a retired academic and economist, lodged the complaint with Audit Scotland saying: "I was surprised that Transport Scotland had not carried out the STAG Appraisal as required and outraged at the 'evaluation' undertaken.

"A 'Value for Money' seminar attempted to ensure that Transport Scotland could claim that many of the aspects that would have been in a STAG appraisal such as landscape and noise were considered. The seminar consisted only of Transport Scotland officials and consultants (as opposed to the STAG requirement of participation by the local community) and followed none of the technical evalaution methods given in the STAG handbook.

"In all of this 'evaluation', and despite the well known problems on the A83, no consideration (costing) was given to the disruption and closure during the rebuild or the consequences of not having an alternative route if the primary route was blocked. I believe that what has happened has been outrageous. The 'evaluation' was clearly conducted in a way that ensured that the shore route was identified as optimal."

He added: "The question is how to stop this juggernaut spending vast sums of public money unwisely. STAG appraisal is an attempt to reduce that risk by involving the public and following best practice. It has been ignored.

"Hopefully Audit Scotland can issue a warning shot that will be heard in Holyrood and cause Transport Scotland to look again."

Transport Scotland's 2016 video: A82 Tarbert to Inverarnan - Existing conditions and restraints

The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership has previously welcomed the plans for the road upgrade believing it presented an opportunity to deliver a transformational improvement for all users.

They say national statistics show that accident rates on the A82 between Tarbet and Inverarnan are considerably higher than the national average, with road safety significantly poorer than comparable non-built-up single carriageway roads, across the trunk road network as a whole.

Between 2015 and 2019, there were 48 accidents between Tarbet and Inverarnan. Of these, two were fatal, 19 were serious and the remaining 27 were slight accidents.

An Audit Scotland spokesperson said: "Audit Scotland auditors independently consider all issues of concern brought to our attention by members of the public regarding Scotland's public bodies. 

"Issues of concern often provide information which helps local auditors plan their audit work or identify issues that require further examination.

"Whilst we do not have the powers to overturn, stop or change policy decisions, we may publicly report on any significant findings and make recommendations where appropriate.

"If an issue is of significant concern we may decide to carry out an audit review and publish the findings on our website."

Transport Scotland has previously stated that they were committed toupgrading this "key strategic route".

They said the design work for the challenging scheme has continued throughout the pandemic and that the public were consulted on their experiences of using the route last year.

They said that they needed to ensure that any future upgrade "fits within the area’s outstanding landscape and environment and maintains the renowned beauty of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, whilst also working to ensure we minimise disruption while construction takes place".

Last year the transport agency said it was  finalising the development and assessment of the preferred route option with a view to preparing draft orders in 2022 for formal comment.

The scheme was first identified in the 2008 Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR). A preferred route option was identified in September 2015.

In 2017 the then transport minister, Humza Yousaf, confirmed that the scheme would comprise a 7.3 metre wide carriageway.

Ground investigation work took place in early 2018.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "As with all improvements to the trunk road we are following a rigorous assessment process to establish the design of the A82 Tarbet to Inverarnan scheme.

"The options appraisal process for the scheme was undertaken in a manner underpinned by the principles of STAG and the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB). 

“We are satisfied that we have followed due process and remain satisfied with the outcomes of the options appraisal process.

“We fully understand people feel strongly about this route and this is why maintaining the natural beauty of this key lifeline link is an integral part of the design to ensure we deliver the right scheme and keep impacts on the environment to the absolute minimum.  As with all our major projects, engagement with local communities and other stakeholders is also at the heart of scheme development.  This will ensure feedback received is taken into account as we develop our plans."


“While there is still a lot of development work to be carried out, which is being informed by our enhanced understanding of the specific complexities associated with improving this iconic route, we continue to push forward the preparation stages to deliver this scheme as soon as possible.”