Transport Minister, Keith Brown, must have gone away from Inveraray on Monday 25th February, struggling to conceal a smile.
The A83 Task Force he had set up and which was never more than a decoy, had accepted without resistance the fact that nothing more is going to be done to secure the reliability of the landslide prone A83.
At the last Taskforce meeting the delegates had rejected Transport Scotland’s preferred option of the six identified in the consultants’ report.
The Taskforce was supposed to be a crucial part of the decision taking process – engaged, questioning, approving or withholding approval – not simply observers, listeners and nodders.
The preferred option was not only the cheapest one, it was the only that could not guarantee that a landslide would not close this road, the principal access route to Argyll.
The purpose of the consultants’ report was supposed to be identifying permanent solutions with the capability to keep the road open – regardless.
The option Transport Scotland supported was planting trees that will take over two decades to have any impact on the fragile hillside; and plastering the slope with more sections of debris flow netting – whose load bearing and momentum absorption capacities have never been quoted.
The Transport Minister chaired the meeting and made his ritually planned announcement that he had just come from Rest and Be Thankful where he had observed the first trial convoy come up the emergency diversion route successfully.
He had and it had – as we have reported.
But while the trial convoy demonstrated some things, it was very far from being a testing occasion. It was essentially a public relations exercise so there was no way it was going to fail.
A genuine trial would see the familiar timber lorry with a trailer and a full load; a West Coast Motors Scottish Citylink supercoach – they run five returns a day on this route; one of the big Tesco lorries; an Eddie Stobart; and a flat bed with a couple of road machines chained down on board. And a couple of inexperienced drivers somewhere in this mix.
But, on the back of the smooth assurance that the emergency route is ready to take the traffic when the hill above the A83 lets go again, the Tasforce accepted that nothing else would be done for Argyll other than the make-and-mend job they had rejected last time out.
The final Report which has been published by Transport Scotland confirms that the conclusions of the draft Report remain unchanged and are being taken forward.
Surely any final decision was supposed to have been agreed by the Taskforce before anything was taken forward?
It would now appear that the busy works programme on the hill since the Taskforce last meeting and continuing until the end of March is in fact the very work that at that meeting was presented as no more than a preferred option.
Transport Scotland dismissed the scepticism identified during consultation about its planned landslide mitigation measures.
The Minister remained confident that these measures – those already carried out and those in train – will go a long way to ensure that the A83 remains open for business. But ‘a long way’ was never the point.
When another landslip closes the road from now on, the aim is to have the emergency diversion route opened – in a target time of two hours.
It takes an hour and a quarter to drive what had been seen as an unacceptably long diversion via Crianlarich, Tyndrum and Dalmally to Inveraray.
How is sitting freezing in a vehicle for two hours before a slow crawl up the single track diversion route, stopping and starting as large vehicles try to wind themselves round the Devil’s Elbow, better than the situation before the Transport Minister spent 150% more than the planned total of £1 million on the old military road?
But at Monday’s meeting, the music played on.
The Taskforce ranged over the subject of communications and the importance of making it quite clear that there is now a resilient road and that Argyll is accessible. It always was. It was just unacceptably accessible. That remains the case.
They discussed how important is is to promote the national scenic route and – wait for it – set up a Sub-Group of the Taskforce to prepare a marketing plan. Now it’s getting silly. But wait. How might this become the planned marketing opportunity…..
‘Come to mysterious Argyll at any time of the year – and experience the exhilaration of the unexpected.
With the red tail lights of the queuing traffic gleaming in the rhythm of the thudding rain, you may just be lucky enough to have two extra hours snuggling in the soft fleecy blanket and playing the game of Trivial Pursuit you always keep to hand when you head for Inverary, or Oban, or Islay or Campbeltown.
‘If your magic opportunity comes up trumps in daylight, you will see above you a long hillside pouring mud through a series of huge sieves. This one’s for the kids, folks. They’ll love the jolly invisible giant up there in the mist who’s making a new batch of A83 mash.
‘Argyll will charm you with its teasing unpredictability.
‘It will challenge you to demonstrate your adaptability.
‘It will make you proud of your indefatigibility.
‘It will puzzle you. It will make you laugh at the absurdity of it all.
‘You may never come back. But you will never forget.
‘Always Argyll’ [The music fades.]
As the dream state faded, they woke up. They remembered there was something else. Now what was it?
Ah yes. They talked turkey – well guinea fowl maybe. They took very deep breaths and they told Transport Scotland how it it had to be.
Just because they’ve perfected their conjuring trick – sorry - completed the emergency diversion route, those naughty boys at Transport Scotland must knuckle down to their homework and never lose sight of the importance of completing the other works identified in the A83 Study.
Figures were tossed about with reckless abandon. £250k on pedestrian crossings, improved signage and safety measures; £500k on investigating problem areas like Strone Point, Dunderave, Erines and Barmore Road. Pocket money.
Discussions around trunking the route from Kennacraig to Campbeltown are ongoing. We bet they are – and on – and on.
But hey – now there’s going to be Taskforce sub-group. This can go on for ever.
Who needs to be sure they can get to Argyll anyway? The folk who live there don’t think it’s that important.
Whatever happened to ‘Just say no’?