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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 06 October 2021 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Supreme Court Judgment, Scotland in the World, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Rest and Be Thankful


Contents


Rest and Be Thankful

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00989, in the name of Donald Cameron, on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the ongoing frustration felt by communities and businesses across Argyll and Bute as a result of the reported continued problems on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful pass; acknowledges the establishment of the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group, representing 1,500 businesses across Argyll and Bute; notes the group’s calls for a more robust, long-term solution to the existing road, and for faster action to be taken to deliver it; understands that, following public consultation, Transport Scotland has identified a new route to replace the existing A83 Rest and Be Thankful pass; considers that the timescale set out to achieve this does not meet the urgent needs of communities and businesses across Argyll and Bute; notes the view that Transport Scotland should explore the potential use of the nearby forestry road as a temporary mitigation route, and further notes the calls on the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to work with MSPs from all parties, the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign and other local stakeholders to achieve a suitable outcome.

17:27  

I thank members from across the Parliament who have supported my motion for debate and those who will speak in the debate. I particularly welcome the cross-party effort on this important issue from MSPs past and present, including my old adversary Mike Russell, who I know was keen to see a permanent solution for the Rest and Be Thankful pass. I pay tribute to the Rest and Be Thankful campaign group, which is chaired by John Gurr and has the support of over 1,500 businesses from across Argyll and Bute. In addition, I acknowledge the minister’s efforts, because, unlike others in the Government, Graeme Dey has visited the pass, met the campaign group and done much more than any of his predecessors in relation to the crisis, an often overused word but which describes precisely what is happening at the Rest and Be Thankful pass.

The group that I just mentioned was established as a direct result of the fact that this issue has been on the agenda for many years but remains unresolved and has no clear end in sight. Members will likely sympathise with that, as I imagine that many of us here have received countless emails from exasperated constituents and businesses who are fed up with having to put up with a substandard road that is regularly closed. However, it is not just a road but the key arterial route into and out of Argyll, relied upon by residents and businesses from towns such as Campbeltown, Lochgilphead and Dunoon and by many in our island communities such as in Islay, Jura and Gigha, who commute to the central belt by ferry and road. People talk about lifeline routes, but that route really is a lifeline.

The figure that I want to remind everyone of is 100,000 tonnes, which is the amount of debris that sits above that road. That is 100,000 tonnes of debris sitting above vehicles carrying our school children, our elderly to hospital and people from our communities in and out of Argyll every day, every week and every year, which is very real and threatening for a vast number of people.

Many rightly believe that the road has been neglected over many years and that the short-term fixes that have been applied to attempt to make it safe and reliable simply have not worked. The Herald recently reported that £8.5 million has been spent on mitigation measures over the past five years, including on things such as catch pits and barriers. However, there is broad acknowledgement in all quarters that, in the event of some of the worst landslips that we have seen, even those mitigation measures simply will not prevent the road from closing. That brings into question whether the mitigation measures have been worth it. If landslides are going to overwhelm the catch-pits and close the road when it rains, have they been worth it? That is why it is clear that we need a long-term solution sooner rather than later, otherwise Argyll is getting a second-best solution with only mitigation measures and long timescales.

I welcomed the action that was taken by Transport Scotland in October 2020 to consult on a new route, and the route option that was chosen was broadly welcomed by all stakeholders. However, many stakeholders to whom I have spoken since, including the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group, are deeply concerned about comments from Transport Scotland that it could take up to 10 years to deliver that route. Residents cannot wait 10 years for a safe and reliable route, and businesses cannot wait 10 years.

As others have noted, many key sectors across Argyll and Bute will struggle if they are forced to make longer detours to get their products to the marketplace as a result of the Rest and Be Thankful and the old military road—the usual diversion—being closed. For example, dairy farms in Kintyre, which transport tankers of milk for processing, work on low margins and are massively affected by the excessive detour as a result of the Rest being closed, which obviously hikes up their costs. There is huge and increasing frustration in relation to agricultural businesses in general. In addition, a Dunoon-based manufacturer of kit-built houses said that it took

“the unfortunate decision to manufacture our timber kits out with Dunoon due to the road connection being unreliable.”

The fact is that some businesses are deterred from investing in Argyll. One issue that the Government could perhaps explore is whether there is recognition of the cost for and impact on businesses and whether that can be quantified.

Colin Craig, the managing director of West Coast Motors, said that his business

“calculated that diversion via Dalmally and Crianlarich would add 170,000 miles per annum, use 53,000 extra litres of fuel and ... add over 140,000 kg of CO2 emissions.”

The delays are therefore having an environmental impact too.

It is clear that action is needed from Transport Scotland to reduce the delivery timescale for this project, which is why local campaigners ask the Scottish Government to commit to a new route by the end of this parliamentary session. However, even if that date was met, there is wide recognition that additional short-term measures are needed to alleviate reliance on the pass. Many people have long called for the local forestry road at Glen Croe to be upgraded so that it can be used as a relief road in the event that the Rest and the old military road are closed. Again, an interim solution is needed this winter. One year is bad enough, not to mention four years.

The Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group states that a

“Transerv report ... in 2012 ... suggested the forestry road could be upgraded in 10-12 weeks.”

I am aware that Transport Scotland officials are still reviewing the route, over a year since it was originally mooted at a task force meeting. I appreciate that they have statutory duties to follow and that that can take time, but it is clear to me that there is an emergency situation and that, as winter approaches and the risk of landslips heightens, something has to be done sooner rather than later. The situation must be treated as an emergency.

I turn to the work of the task force. I have been grateful for the vital updates on the situation given by Transport Scotland officials, but it is clear to me that there is a divide between those officials and stakeholders on the ground. There is a strong argument for someone independent of Government being appointed to chair future meetings of the task force so that the agenda is set by local stakeholders rather than by Transport Scotland. I hope that the minister will consider that.

Since my election to the Scottish Parliament, in 2016, the Rest and Be Thankful issue has been one of the most significant local issues that I have dealt with and I have raised it in the Parliament on countless occasions, as have others. I have raised the issue with three different transport ministers and with the First Minister. However, in all that time, little progress has been made, and residents and communities continue to suffer.

We must ensure that a future route is robust and reliable, which will take time, but we must also be mindful that, for each year that goes by in which the issue is not resolved, pain will be felt in the communities that are most affected. Let this be the session of Parliament in which we resolve the crisis at the Rest and Be Thankful once and for all.

17:35  

I thank Donald Cameron for bringing this important matter to the chamber.

For almost 100 miles, the A83 traverses Argyll and Bute. From Tarbet on Loch Lomond, it snakes its way through mid-Argyll and then south into Kintyre to Campbeltown. It links towns, villages and islands. It links people across Argyll and Bute with neighbours, businesses and the lifeline services that we all depend on.

The road is also Argyll and Bute’s main link to central Scotland, but there is one section of the road that is infamous for landslips, closures and long diversions—the Rest and Be Thankful. I know the road well. It is my route home, so this is personal.

I have seen the mitigation work progress over the past 16 years—the catch pits, the wire slip capture nets, the resurfacing of the old military road, the building of the bund and now the commencement of a woodland aiming to stabilise the slope—but we need a long-term solution.

Donald Cameron has set out clearly the history and impact of the closures and detours on Argyll and Bute businesses. I am going to concentrate on the social and societal impacts.

One of my constituents living in Tarbert has regular hospital appointments in Glasgow. When the Rest is open, it is a straightforward drive of two and a half hours each way. However, if the Rest is closed, it is a journey that takes two and a half times as long—a mixture of driving and catching ferries. That is not ideal when you are healthy, but it is so much worse when you are ill.

My constituent and their carer-partner are so concerned about the impact on their health of the anxiety that comes with any hospital appointment that they are questioning whether they should attend. That should not be happening. At the Kirking of the Parliament on Friday evening, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland reminded us, as elected representatives, of the importance of

“walking in our constituent’s shoes”.

I believe that this is a situation in which we must do just that.

Before every journey, my constituents check the road reports and weather forecasts, just in case the Rest might close. They work out the best way to travel and decide whether they need to travel the day before, with the added monetary and time expense.

Three weekends ago, for example, there was a perfect storm. An accident closed the A82 north of Tyndrum, with traffic diverted via Connel, a single track bridge, resulting in horrendous tailbacks, and then there was an accident in Taynuilt. On top of that, the Cammanachd cup final was being played in Oban. Accidents and increased traffic volume on a fragile road network resulted in gridlock.

Everyone in Argyll and Bute recognises that the solution to the Rest and Be Thankful landslides must be safe, but they ask that the situation be treated as an emergency. We already have “strategic timber routes”. I suggest that the A83 is a “strategic lifeline route”.

I ask the Minister for Transport to ensure that my constituents’ voices—those of both communities and businesses—are listened to at the A83 task force meetings. The task force is there for everyone. I also ask that he looks into the possibility of appointing an independent chair for those meetings and, finally, that the dialogue between Transport Scotland and Argyll and Bute Council occurs on a more regular basis.

This week, the welcome news of the addition of the MV Utne to Calmac’s service shows, I believe, the positive changes that the transport minister is making. I hope that he continues in that vein with regard to the Rest and Be Thankful.

The people of Argyll and Bute are resilient and, as one said to me, they “don’t go bothering people until it gets really bad”. Well, it has got really bad. The health and welfare of my constituents and their businesses are at risk. For too long, they have been the victims of the geology of Glen Croe, and they now look to the Scottish Government to solve the A83 problem once and for all.

17:39  

I, too, congratulate Donald Cameron on securing the debate and join him in paying tribute to the campaign group. The Rest and Be Thankful is a crucial link for our constituents in Argyll and Bute. The disruption that closures bring impacts on the economy but also on people’s health, as we have just heard, and on people who depend on it for their social links as well as their livelihoods.

I believe that the whole Parliament takes the issue of depopulation seriously. It is an issue that the Scottish Government tells us is on its radar, but its failure to deal with the situation at the Rest and Be Thankful does not reassure me on that. I understand that, because of the route, the area could not compete for an investment of more than £700 million by the Scottish Salmon Company that would have created local jobs. Instead, the investment went to a place where transport links are much more secure. A manufacturer of kit houses is moving out of Dunoon

“due to the road connection being unreliable.”

The road haulage sector tells us that the disruption is costing it around £2.3 million a year. Donald Cameron mentioned other examples.

The area contributes 15 per cent of Scotland’s whisky and 26 per cent of its forestry, and those industries are hampered by the situation on the A83. Despite millions of pounds having been spent on the road, it is no safer. The amount of earth that is unstable and in danger of falling is terrifying. We have already lost one life to the road and, should that 100,000 tonnes of earth fall on to the road this winter, it could have catastrophic consequences.

It is also unacceptable that the road closes when there is a threat of bad weather, with traffic being rerouted to the old military road, which is not satisfactory. Until the Scottish Government fixes the route, we need a real-time warning system, whereby when bad weather is forecast, an amber light indicates that the road is liable to close, with a red light showing that it is closed. A similar system is used for our ferry services. A text alert system could give regular travellers real-time information on what was happening on the route.

We need a safer and more sustainable short-term alternative, because I fear for this winter. Thereafter, we need a long-term solution that serves the whole of Argyll and Bute. We need that urgently. Too much time has already elapsed. We cannot wait for the next election to get new promises—we need action now.

Transport Scotland tells us that it takes it a year to look at every temporary solution that is proposed. It should open the forestry road to take transport in the opposite direction of the old military road in the short term. It could do that now. It would still cause delays, but it would be much faster than the current solution.

Surely it is not too much to ask for a road that is open when it rains, that people can depend on and that they do not fear travelling on. I am sorry to say that the situation on the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful is a catastrophe waiting to happen if no action is taken. The Scottish Government knows that, and it needs to act now.

17:42  

I thank Donald Cameron for bringing the debate to the Parliament. It would be nice if we had something to be thankful for, because, if that were the case, we would not need to be here. The problems on the A83 are long-standing.

Too many parts of Scotland—generally, those on the edges—get left behind when it comes to road investment, although in this case lack of money is not the problem. Goodness knows, enough has been spent—£8.5 million in the past five years—on mitigation measures. No, I am talking about the spending of money on a permanent solution that will mean no more road closures; Argyll not being cut off unless drivers take an enormous detour; business not suffering; and people being able to do normal things, such as get about, get to work and trade.

As Donald Cameron said, 1,500 businesses support the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign. A quick look at the campaign’s website shows the level of frustration. The campaign has some stats of its own: 200 days is the length of time for which the A83 was disrupted in 2020; 10 years is the length of time that was waited for 11 new proposals, only one of which is feasible; 10 years is the Government’s current timeframe for delivering a permanent solution; 100,000 tonnes is the amount of debris that could fall on the road; £1 million is the amount of money that was spent on the barrier wall on the old military road in 2020.

We are not talking about some remote road that a few tourists use to get to the hills, although that is important, too. The A83 is a key artery. It is as important to the people of Argyll and Bute as the A77 is to people in Ayrshire, or as the A1 is to those in the Borders. There is a lack of investment in those roads, too, but communities along them generally do not get cut off.

Too often, projects in this country get bogged down in process. The cabinet secretary or minister of the day will talk about how they need to follow the process, how proper studies need to be done and how there is a need for reviews and consultation. That is all shorthand for delay—for not actually doing anything.

Donald Cameron spoke about the growing divide between Transport Scotland officials and stakeholders on the ground. That is all too typical of the we-know-best attitude that permeates some parts of the public sector. It is not good enough. Mr Cameron has spoken to three different transport ministers in his time in the Parliament. He has been an MSP for as long as I have—just over five years—and nothing has happened in that period.

The Minister for Transport, whom Mr Cameron praised, should chair the meetings of the A83 task force—or get someone independent to do so—and commit to winding it up because a new road has been built. That needs to happen now—not in 10 years’ time.

The A83 campaign has written to various ministers and officials. In an act of sheer desperation, its chairman, John Gurr, wrote last week to the coalition of chaos’s very own ministerial double act, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater. He said:

“we estimate the impact to the environment on idling traffic waiting at lights or for a convoy, or with the increased impact of 30-60 miles diversions—for a two-mile road closure—to be an extra 3,300 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

That is bad for the environment. One would think that that would interest the Greens. The Government must act, and act now—not in 10 years’ time.

17:47  

I congratulate Donald Cameron on securing debating time on this important matter. The disruption that is caused by repeated closure of the A83 Rest and Be Thankful has not only impacted the people and communities of Argyll but had a knock-on effect on my Arran constituents. When the Rest and Be Thankful is closed, islanders and visitors who wish to travel to Argyll via Arran, and vice versa, are prevented from travelling on a vital main road unless they take a wide detour.

Unreliable diversions such as the single-track old military road, which can also face closure due to a lack of staff or weather conditions, increases the reluctance to visit the Kintyre peninsula, causing the island to miss out on tourists who would visit Arran via Claonaig. Ironically, many choose that route only if the Brodick to Ardrossan ferry is not sailing, as is not infrequently the case. Tourism is the backbone of Arran’s economy, generating £61 million in 2018.

Unreliable alternative routes often prevent residents from leaving the island or delay their return home from essential visits to the mainland due to traffic queues and increased pressure on the CalMac Lochranza to Claonaig ferry route. Islanders repeatedly make it clear that their biggest concern is the reliability of ferry services, which is worsened by Covid outbreaks on vessels. It is therefore vital to expedite the implementation of a solution to the landslides in order to support local communities in Argyll and, by extension, those on Arran.

The island has faced numerous setbacks due to Covid and Brexit. The angst among Arran and Argyll business owners must be recognised and acted on to prevent further detriment. Every closure of the A83 due to delays in implementing a permanent solution to the landslides that plague the route is a further setback to local businesses as they work to kick-start the economies of Argyll and Arran post-lockdown. Additional transport costs and the environmental impact must also be considered. For 674 of the 730 days between 2018 and 2020, the A83 pass was used as a single-track road with traffic lights. That highlights the catastrophic impact of the landslides on accessibility to much of Arran and Argyll.

We should find a permanent solution to the issue, in order to boost local confidence and much-needed growth in local economies, instead of pouring more money into ineffective temporary measures. A fast, long-term and robust solution is what the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group is working for, but it is yet to be delivered.

Despite eight permanent solutions being identified in 2012, Transport Scotland implemented ineffective temporary measures that have cost £8.5 million to date, as Donald Cameron pointed out. Notwithstanding that, we see an ever-increasing number of road closures. Those short-term mitigations have failed to ensure continuous full access through the A83.

In 2020, Transport Scotland identified a further 11 proposals, with even a tunnel being considered, although I understand from my colleague Jenni Minto that the soil and underlying conditions make that an unlikely prospect. Local communities were relieved that at least those options were being considered, but that relief changed to disappointment when it was announced that it might take a further 10 years to implement a solution.

That must change if the A83 Rest and Be Thankful route is no longer to have a detrimental effect on my constituents and much of Argyll—and not least on the communities and businesses in the Kintyre peninsula. I know that the minister will take the opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and work to deliver a swift solution to this seemingly perennial problem.

17:50  

I thank Donald Cameron for securing the debate and colleagues for all the work that they have carried out in raising the issue of the Rest and Be Thankful on behalf of people who live and work in Argyll and Bute.

As an MSP for a region that covers large areas of rural and island Scotland, I have become very familiar with the term “lifeline”—lifeline services, lifeline ferries and lifeline roads. The Rest and Be Thankful is a lifeline road. The residents and businesses that depend on that lifeline road require a solution now, and, having met with a number of them, I have been made aware of the level of their frustration and concern.

I appreciate that the Scottish Government is working on a temporary solution and a long-term solution, but the timescales for those solutions are too long. Ten years is too long—our communities do not have time to wait. The situation needs to be tackled with a greater sense of urgency. The Scottish Government has committed to maintaining populations and repeopling rural and island Scotland, but it is taking too long to get a sustainable solution for the part of the A83 that we are debating. Businesses are relocating and people who live in the area are faced with being cut off from public services, including vital access to medical care in Glasgow.

In 2004, Transport Scotland undertook the Scottish road network landslides study, which identified the A83 Ardgartan to the Rest and Be Thankful as one of the top landslide hazard sites in Scotland. That was 17 years ago. Now, with the acceleration of the climate crisis, we face greater climate breakdown, which is bringing more, and frequent, landslips.

On 1 September, the Minister for Transport told members that the Government has

“invested £87 million in the maintenance of the A83”

since 2007,

“including more than £15 million in landslide mitigation works to provide additional resilience at the Rest and Be Thankful”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2021; c 15.]

If the Scottish Government is to take an infrastructure-first approach in its response to the climate emergency, I suggest that it truly recognise that we are in a climate emergency and must reduce the levels of carbon emissions contributed by our transport. Let us widen our approach. I ask the minister to consider a tunnel—tunnels are in the solutions that have been offered—but, instead of or along with a road, he should include a rail line that is fit for passengers and freight. In the meantime, we should move rapidly on with the short-term solutions and, if possible, take the approach proposed by the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group to upgrade the forestry road for immediate use.

What is happening at the Rest and Be Thankful is an indicator of what is to come as our changing climate and devastated biodiversity create more and more infrastructure problems. It illustrates the need for landowners and managers to do more to mitigate the inevitable impact of climate breakdown on our infrastructure, whether that be through reafforestation or irrigation measures. We need mechanisms in place that support landowners to manage their land for the public good in situations where their choices impact our national transport and other infrastructure.

Over the Parliament’s lifetime, we have had so many announcements on roads, major road-building projects and decisions that have benefited motorists. As we look to the future, we need to stop investing in projects that damage our environment and instead prioritise public transport and lifeline roads such as the Rest and Be Thankful, which put our constituents, our communities and our climate first.

17:55  

I congratulate Donald Cameron on securing the debate and on his speech. Members might be surprised to learn that the A83 is actually in my constituency—it is on the edge of it—but it impacts most significantly on the residents of Argyll.

Even here, some 90 miles away, I can tell when it is raining in Argyll—or, indeed, if there is the prospect of rain—because an email pops into my inbox from BEAR Scotland to tell me that the A83 will be under convoy or closed. I could paper my walls with those emails; in fact, I could paper the walls of the entire Parliament and all the way up the Royal Mile, because the emails have arrived almost daily for many a year. Of course, this is Scotland, where rain, unfortunately, is the default weather status, so the situation is hardly surprising. However, the consequences for Argyll are serious, because those people cannot afford to be cut off by the A83’s closure.

I therefore thank all the people involved—the designers, the engineers and the road experts—for their valiant efforts in trying to contain the landslides at the Rest and Be Thankful. Their efforts could be described as heroic, but they are battling mother nature, who will ultimately win, no matter how ingenious we are.

I agree with Donald Cameron that we should praise the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group, which is so ably led by John Gurr. It has represented local views and interests very well, but it is, understandably, very frustrated.

I do not want to dwell on whether the catch pits work or whether the old military road is sustainable. They have served a purpose. However, the fear is that we will end up with the A83 and the old military road closed simultaneously, which will, in effect, cut Argyll off. I remind members that, from 4 August 2020 to 31 March this year—a mere eight months—the A83 has been fully closed for 35 days, has been under convoy using the old military road for 148 days and has had traffic lights for 56 days. Basically, the A83 has not been fully open and operating normally since 4 August 2020.

For those who do not know the area, the A83 is a lifeline for Argyll, carrying at least 1.4 million vehicles a year. It is essential for farming and getting livestock to markets; it is essential for the timber industry, with 26 per cent of timber production coming from Argyll; it is essential for whisky, with the amber nectar being transported from more than 20 distilleries to Scotland and abroad; and it is essential for tourism, which is one of the main imports into the area—and no wonder, given the area’s great natural beauty. Last but not least, it is important to people who travel for work or to attend hospital.

Whatever the reason for it, closing the road is bad for business and tourism, and it could lead to further population decline. It has a direct detrimental impact on the local industry that runs to millions of pounds in lost income and, indeed, lost jobs.

I know that the minister and his officials are doing their very best, but there is an urgent need now. The demands of the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign group are clear and, I have to say, very reasonable. Those people need a permanent solution, and they need it fast. A preferred route has been identified, running through Glen Croe, but there is dismay that it will take well beyond the lifetime of the current parliamentary session to deliver it. Indeed, some have suggested that it could be 10 years before it is delivered. As a result, it has been suggested that the forestry road be used as a temporary additional route, but that option was previously rejected by Transport Scotland, because Forestry Scotland, apparently, was not keen. I am really sorry, but I do not think that Forestry Scotland’s lack of enthusiasm should be a barrier to doing what is right for the people of Argyll.

I am running out of time, as we are for a replacement road for the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful. We need action from the Government. All parties will support the Government in that endeavour, but it needs to move faster. Climate change will not wait for 10 years.

We managed to put a man on the moon in 1969. That was 52 years ago. We are talking about a road. It should not be beyond us. Let us stop the delay. Let us get this done. The communities of Argyll deserve nothing less.

18:00  

I welcome the fact that Donald Cameron has secured the debate, because it gives me an opportunity to offer any reassurance needed that the Scottish Government is entirely committed to keeping Argyll and Bute open for business by delivering short and longer-term permanent solutions to the issues at the Rest and Be Thankful.

I thank members for their, in large part, thoughtful and measured contributions.

I am acutely aware of the importance of the A83 trunk road to the communities and economy of Argyll and Bute. The fact that my first ministerial visit at the beginning of June this year was to the Rest and Be Thankful should be seen as evidence of that and of the fact that the Scottish Government is intent on identifying and delivering a safe and robust solution as soon as possible, with equal emphasis on “safe”, “robust” and “as soon as possible”.

As we have heard, since 2007, the Government has invested £87 million in maintenance of the A83 trunk road, including £15 million at the Rest and Be Thankful for landslide mitigation measures and improvements to the old military road diversions. As Mr Cameron and other members are aware, Transport Scotland has been progressing a number of projects throughout 2021, including further roadside catch pit works, drainage improvements and debris fences, along with vital maintenance and safety schemes along the A83. Those on-going works are helping to make the A83 and the old military road diversion more resilient to the effects of extreme weather landslides. I do not think that anyone is seriously suggesting that we should not have carried out that work, because it is designed to buy us time to deliver the medium and long-term solutions that we need. That work is extremely important.

I absolutely agree with Jackie Baillie’s assessment of the challenges that mother nature poses here; it is quite scary to go there and see what has happened on the site and the necessity of the work that has been done by the engineers. The key point is, however, that parallel to those essential measures being deployed is the gathering of the data that is required to underpin a decision about the medium and long-term solutions to which we have committed.

Medium and long-term solutions are being progressed, but they must be based on sound information about the topography and the nature of the ground underneath—in relation to the old forest track, for example. On one side of the glen, the existing road is built into the hillside. That error should not be replicated if that is not the right place to put the road. That is where we are.

As I said, I have visited the site and walked the old forest track. I do not mean this as a challenge; I am making a genuine offer to members who have contributed to the debate. I will arrange a visit if they want to go and see for themselves and question the engineers about the challenges that they face on the route. One of the engineers that I spoke to said that this is one of the biggest engineering challenges that we have faced in Scotland because of the nature of the location—he was not using that as an excuse.

In autumn last year, 11 corridor route options, to provide a long-term solution to the issues at the Rest and Be Thankful, were published for consultation. All corridors were assessed and, in March this year, the Glen Croe corridor route was announced as the preferred route. The preferred corridor is the most cost effective and least technically challenging of all the corridors that were considered. It provides scope for the quickest delivery. I hope that that answers the point about unnecessary delay.

Details of five possible route options for the preferred corridor have been announced, and an assessment to determine the best of them is under way. It is a complex project in challenging conditions, and the options range from traditional roads and localised structural protection to full tunnel options.

Timescales for a long-term safe and resilient solution to the Rest and Be Thankful range between seven and 10 years, depending on the solution that is chosen. Those timescales include all the work that needs to be done, but we are not asking people to wait for 10 years. I fully appreciate that, at face value, the timescales that have been mentioned are frustrating for the community, but we will look to bring forward the programme where we can. In part, that is what gathering the data is about. It is not an exercise in collecting data simply for the sake of it; it has an end product, which is to tell us which of the routes is the most suitable to progress.

It is also necessary that the correct statutory process is followed. First, we must ensure that it is fair and transparent and that all the options are looked at for the benefit of the community and local road users. It is also important to follow the correct statutory process so that we avoid the risk of a legal challenge. We have heard some very powerful contributions. None of us wants additional delays to be built in because someone picks a hole in the processes that were followed.

As I said, Transport Scotland is gathering data for the route options. It is essential that we have that information to inform the decision that is made. While that work is being done, and in recognition of the urgent need to find a solution, Transport Scotland is also progressing work on the medium-term resilient route. That will be a proportionate solution that is appropriate to the timeframe, but it will be based on sound engineering principles. As part of that work, consideration is being given to the existing forestry track, possible improvements to the old military road and other options on land that is already owned by the Scottish ministers.

However, contrary to what some might assert, a medium-term solution on the south-western slope along or close to the forestry track is not without its challenges. As things stand, little information is available on the ground conditions in that area, the topography is challenging, and there is evidence of debris flow and boulder-fall events. It is imperative that we go through the process that is currently being followed to ensure that the chosen route for a medium-term solution is proportionate, robust and, above all else, safe for trunk road traffic.

Depending on the statutory consents that are required, following that work we should have a finalised proposal by this time next year. We intend to be as open as we can be with interested parties. That is why, in September, members of the campaign group that is referenced in the motion were afforded the chance to meet Transport Scotland’s engineers and consultants and to walk the forestry track in Glen Croe. That gave both parties the opportunity to discuss the issues and the concerns regarding the use of that route. I reiterate that I make such an offer to members. I think that it would benefit them to go on site to see the situation for themselves and to ask any questions that arise from what they view.

Last month, an A83 task force meeting was held. We have heard talk about the task force. That group encompasses a wide range of stakeholders including MSPs, MPs, local elected members, businesses and community councils, to name just a few. I make it clear that the task force remains the appropriate forum for tracking and discussing progress. The information that is gathered on the medium and long-term solutions will be shared with the task force when it is available.

The campaign group is represented on the task force. I say to the campaign group’s members that, if they have information or, more importantly, evidence from any advisers they have that might assist the process, they should share that at task force meetings.

In keeping with the task force being the forum for engagement between Transport Scotland and stakeholders, I have asked that any task force members who wish to be given the opportunity to walk the forestry track and have conversations of the kind that I mentioned be offered such an opportunity.

Transport Scotland will provide a project update at the next task force meeting, which will include the sharing of data from the project surveys. I hope to attend that meeting, along with officials, so that I can answer any questions on next steps that members of the task force might have. I have much respect for Mr Simpson, but he seems to be obsessed with the idea that I am at the heart of every discussion in the transport portfolio. I am afraid that that is not possible.

A number of members made a point about the nature of the task force meetings. If it is felt that the format is not conducive to participants having the opportunity to interrogate Transport Scotland’s position on the matter and to ask any questions that they have, I am quite happy to assess whether the format can be revised. I am happy to discuss that offline with members.

Could you start to wind up, please?

I am sorry—I am going on a bit longer than I intended to.

I go back to the point that I made earlier: we have to deal with the here and now. That means seeking to mitigate the risk from landslides at the Rest and Be Thankful as a priority as we work through the measures that I have outlined. In the meantime, the work continues apace.

I will review the Official Report of the debate, as the sound during Ms Grant’s contribution was a bit ropey, and I will consider her point about amber lights and red lights.

Thank you very much indeed, minister. That concludes the debate.

Meeting closed at 18:10.