It has emerged that the situation with Transport Scotland’s early work on the emergency diversion route for the A83 at Rest and Be Thankful was rather more complex that was thought.
Transport Scotland had launched Scotland Transerv into operation at the bottom and top of the old military road below the A83 on the north side of Glen Croe.
This work seemed almost buccaneeringly presumptive since it was known that, when this work began, Transport Scotland had no agreement with the Davidsons, understood to be the sole owners of the land on which the old road stands.
When we discovered last week that the work at the hairpin at the top of the old road was almost finished and that a section had been surfaced at the entrance to the route at the eastern end of the glen – but that there was still no agreement with the landowners, we were bemused.
It was clear that this work in advance of an agreement left the landowner in a very strong negotiating position. It was difficult, however, to understand how he had stood by passively and watched machines and men work on his land without the necessary understanding.
The reason for this is – now – the obvious one. This wasn’t his land at all.
The top and tail sections that Scotland Transerv has largely finished belong to the Forestry Commission – a sister department of government to Transport Scotland.
While it was generally understood that the lower section where the contractors’ base was set up was Forestry Commission property, it was not publicly realised that they also owned the final hairpin section from the gate just above the access to the climb and up to the car park above.
This widespread misunderstanding raises the issue as to whether users of the old road were able to seek permission from the correct landowners and what the consequences might have been if they had not.
Amongst other users, there is a continuing custom for people with a special affinity with Rest and Be Thankful to be cremated, with their ashes scattered above the hairpin at the point where the view is straight down that glorious valley. The presence of the ashes is marked by cairns, shrines and little commemorative plaques fixed to the rock.
Permissions will be needed for these but have they been sought from the right source? There will now need to be agreements made that such events – which can involve a large group of mourners – might have to cede precedence to traffic where the old road is in use as an emergency diversion. There is not room for both on this narrow section.
Permissions from Forestry Commission Scotland clearly allowed the topping and tailing of the emergency route to go ahead legally; but this left the landowner in an even greater position to dictate terms since he literally held the ring.
You have to sympathise with Transport Scotland on this. They are selling Argyll short with a put-by fix to emergency closures of the A83 rather to commit to the long overdue settling on a permanent solution, but they were doing all they could to get that put-by completed in the promised timescale.
They put themselves in a position where they could be held to ransom and they clearly encountered robust negotiation. The terms of an understanding with the landowner have now been settled and while the legal agreement itself will not be signed off until 26th October, one assumes that the work itself may now continue.
The report on the A83 itself, commissioned by Transport Scotland from consultants, Jacobs,will be presented to the Taskforce at a meeting in November.
Their report will be discussed with Transport Scotland and presented to the Taskforce meeting in November – being published online soon after that.