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Response to A83 Consultation

This is the submission sent by the Working Group in October 2020 in response to the Transport Scotland consultation on Access to Argyll & Bute (A83) September 2020. This submission should be read in conjunction with the maps of the 11 Corridor Options contained in the consultation paper, and which can be found under the Links tab on this website.

 

Access to Argyll and Bute (A83) September 2020

 

Feedback form – Cowal Fixed Link Working Group

 

Of the eleven route corridors on display, we are particularly interested in any local issues or constraints you feel should be taken into consideration in design and assessment work. We would be grateful for any such feedback in the box below - either in general terms or specific to certain options.

 

Executive Summary

 

The Cowal Fixed Link Working Group recommends that Transport Scotland adopt Corridor 04 as the solution to the A83 Access to Argyll & Bute, with some modifications as indicated below.

 

Introduction

 

The Cowal Fixed Link Working Group (CFLWG) was formed after the Argyll & Bute Economic Forum held in Dunoon in October 2013. A group of concerned councillors, community councillors and local business people met to discuss the economic, population and business forecasts that had been presented at the Forum and the actions that had been proposed to address those issues. The conclusion of these discussions was that the actions suggested would not have a significant effect on reversing the economic decline of the area which had been emerging since the 1970s, but was accelerated after the closure of the US Naval Base at the Holy Loch in 1991.

 

The group concluded that a significant investment in transport infrastructure was the most effective way to ensure that the necessary injection of economic activity could be achieved. A fixed link from Cowal and South Argyll to the Central Belt was the vehicle that could achieve this objective. It was agreed that a road and rail link would be the goal. In particular, the rail link would encourage bi-directional commuting, tourism and provide a base for new business growth.  Since 2013, the ongoing worrying demographic imbalance of both a declining and ageing population in Argyll and Bute has continued. Local contacts suggest that, with the current COVID 19 crisis apparently generating increasing interest from people looking to buy houses in Argyll and Bute, this may well be exacerbating the situation. The Working Group remains more and more convinced that a fixed link option would undoubtedly benefit Argyll and Bute economically and go some way to mitigating the adverse effects of the imbalance, which include the provision of essential local services by a reduced working population.

 

 

Over time, conversations with many local individuals and groups led to the evolution of 8 options to construct this link. Although no formal engineering assessment of these links was carried out, some engineering input was received and, where relevant, this is mentioned in the comments below.  Fuller details of the background to the Working Group and the options and recommendations that were considered can be found at: www.cowalfixedlink.scot.  

 

Although landslips at the A83 / Rest & Be Thankful had been a feature of the road since 2007, or even earlier, the problem caused by more and more frequent events started to be of major public concern around the same time as the Working Group were focussing on the design of link options. It became clear that one of the group’s identified options (the Loch Long Bridge / Ardentinny Bridge option) could not only be the preferred fixed link to South Argyll / Cowal but could also be the solution for the Rest & Be Thankful. This option is more or less identical to the Corridor 04 option in the Project Corridor Options document from Transport Scotland.    

 

Overarching Principles

 

In assessing the options that are outlined in the Access to Argyll and Bute (A83) September 2020 documents, the CFLWG believes that the following overarching principles should be used to determine the option or options that are taken forward to the next stage of evaluation. These are in priority:

 

  1. Project Timeframe. Any solution that is adopted must aim to solve the Rest & Be Thankful as soon as practical. However, if substantial addition economic benefit can be identified by a relatively small increment in the schedule, then such project modification should be considered.

 

  1. Phasing. Any transport infrastructure project will, of necessity, be expensive. The group strongly believes that a solution should be found that can be expanded over time. This would allow a fast solution to the immediate problems of the A83, but would be designed to permit additional infrastructure increments over time bringing additional economic benefits to the region.

 

  1. Rail Option. The CFLWG understands that the objective of this consultation is to find a road solution to the A83 / Rest & Be Thankful. However, the design of any solution should, where possible, allow for an eventual rail link to Cowal, South Argyll and beyond. Adding a rail option to the road infrastructure project is not a zero cost option. But, it would be a marginal cost option. If the road project goes ahead without the ability to include rail at a later stage, then it is probable that it will be one or two generations or longer before such capital investment could be considered again for the region. An opportunity to contribute in a major way towards a lower carbon future, to capture the economic benefits of a secure rail link, to improve transport access to the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park and to address many of the issues facing Cowal and South Argyll will have been thrown away. 

 

  1. Economic Benefit. The preceding priorities have included the need to consider additional economic benefit beyond fixing the immediate issues of the Rest & Be Thankful. However, the follow up from the consultation should specifically include economic as well as engineering feasibility studies to determine which of the Corridor options would generate the maximum economic benefit in the medium to long term.

 

Corridor Assessment

The following are the assessments of each of the Corridor options in the Transport Scotland consultation. In each case, comments are provided based on the work done by the CFLWG over the past years and then there is an assessment against the overarching principles above.

 

Corridor 01

 

This solution fixes the A83 / Rest & Be Thankful only. It does not include any phasing or options to add incremental investment over time, and it precludes a rail option to Cowal and South Argyll. In our opinion, there are only two ways to implement this corridor – a tunnel or a viaduct over the Old Military Road (OMR). The current route to the N East of the glen is beyond fixing; a road option on the S West will probably, over time and given the increasing severe weather outlooks, be just as liable to landslips.

 

A tunnel option would have to start quite a distance north of the B828 / A83 junction, as landslips  have occurred in the past along this stretch of the road and, more importantly, to permit a manageable incline. A tunnel would then have to slope downwards running NW to SE probably almost as far as Ardgarten. This would be a very expensive and time consuming project.

 

A viaduct option would also have to start north of the B828 / A83 junction in order to avoid all areas where landslips have occurred, and would follow approximately the line of the OMR. This would re-join the current A83 NW of Ardgarten and would be similar to many such viaducts seen on Alpine roads. As long as there were no major problems in getting land owner permissions, this might be the cheapest option. However, given the line it would have to take, the project would probably require significant periods of closure of the A83 and the OMR during construction. And the construction period may well be no quicker than other corridor options.  

 

The CFLWG does not support Corridor 01.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes, but tunnel could take several years

Not possible

No

No

 

Corridor 02 / 03

 

We will consider Corridors 02 and 03 together as they are two more or less identical options, with different start points and routing, but arriving at the same destination on the A82 at Inverarnan.

 

These corridors would address the Rest & Be Thankful issues, but would create major new ones. As well as diverting traffic that is heading towards the SE on to a longer road to the NE, they would join one of the worst major highways in Scotland just before one of the most difficult stretches, notwithstanding the recent upgrade at Pulpit Rock. The A82 between Inverarnan and Tarbet, particularly at busy periods, is a site of many accidents, prone to slow moving traffic and a major bottleneck. To consider adding the totality of the traffic from the current A83 to the traffic on the current A82 would be a disaster. These Corridor options would have to include a major upgrade to the A82 from Inverarnan to Tarbet to the same or better standard as the A82 south of Arrochar. And, this upgrade would have to be carried out before the A83 / RABT bypass could be considered implemented. It would be hugely expensive ( as many studies of the A82 over time have shown) and would produce no additional economic benefit.

 

The CFLWG would not support Corridor 02 / 03.   

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes

Not possible – the A82 would need upgrading in parallel to the proposed Corridor construction

No

No

 

Corridor 04

 

Even before examining this route as a solution  to the RABT, this route had many supporters in South Argyll and Cowal. The route suggested envisages an upgrade to the A815 from Cairndow to south of Glen Branter, and then a bridge (the Loch Long Bridge / Ardentinny Bridge) across Loch Long as its narrowest point, just south of Loch Goil. We would strongly recommend that the route of the road from the A815 to the proposed bridge be looked at again. A member of the CFLWG has walked this route through Forestry Commission land and believes a link at the 50m contour level exists directly from where the proposed road leaves the A815 to the proposed bridge heading due East and avoiding the V shaped construction shown on the map which nearly reaches Ardentinny. As the bridge would need to be high enough to permit marine traffic, this route would lead directly to a bridge 50m over the Loch. With the right focus, we believe the construction period for this option would not take much longer than the viaduct option for Corridor 01.   

 

One other point to mention. When the CFLWG was considering various route options early on, the prevailing weather conditions formed part of our discussion. The gales from the South West can be ferocious in this area. For instance, a wind gust of 126 mph was reported in Strone during a gale some years ago, and this wasn’t even a named storm. However, local knowledge can attest that the curve of Loch Long to the East just North of Ardentinny can modify the wind strengths and this allows us to recommend a bridge, rather than a tunnel.  This is not the case for some of the options we considered further South and this will be covered later.

 

After crossing the bridge, the proposed route shown as part of the Corridor envisages a road connecting to the A82 at Shantron. This is an example of where phasing can play a role. In the short term, the road can join the A814 just North of Garelochhead and allow traffic to head towards Helensburgh and Glasgow. This would mean a faster construction period to allow the RABT bypass to be implemented more rapidly.

 

This Corridor also permits a rail option. While the rail option would probably be a later development and should not delay addressing the urgent situation at the RABT, as mentioned earlier, the marginal cost of including rail option at this point should be a factor. At the minimum, the bridge should be constructed to allow for a 2-way road and two rail tracks.  Either one above the other or on one level.  A modern road needs about 7m per carriageway; thus the bridge will need to be approximately 14m wide to carry the road. A 20m wide bridge would allow for a rail connection.   

 

The economic benefits for this Corridor beyond fixing the RABT are significant. It would reduce the road distance from Cowal to Glasgow by over 30 miles, as well as providing a weather proof and landslip proof route to all the facilities offered by the Glasgow conurbation. It would remove the costs and uncertainties of ferries. It would open up a tourist route to areas that tourists have been more and more avoiding. If the rail option were to be added, that would also be transformative. Railway stations could be built at Dunoon and Sandbank. Bi-directional commuting would encourage people to move into the area, further tourist options would occur, new business opportunities would arise. The experience of the Borders Railway over the last few years, where actual economic benefits have exceeded expectations, would support such an infrastructure investment. And, a rail link would make a real impact on Carbon emissions in the future. 

 

The CFLWG supports Corridor 04.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes

Yes

Yes

Substantial

 

Corridor 05

 

This Corridor option, with modifications, could be a prime example of a phased approach, which brings additional benefits for additional investment over time. We do not think that Corridor, as currently proposed, would achieve the objective of a fast replacement of the RABT. Traffic from Campbeltown and the South of Argyll would benefit from a much shorter route to Glasgow, but traffic from the North and Inveraray would face a much longer route. The A83 from Inveraray to the proposed Loch Fyne bridge is not a great road and  would add many miles to the current route. What we would suggest is that the proposed link from  Lochgilphead to the A815 should be seen as a further phase of Corridor 04, adding an additional link to the Argyll regional capital. This does not have to take place at the same time as Corridor 04, but should be on the menu for the future. The CFLWG always considered that, once a basic link had been established between Cowal  / South Argyll and the Central Belt, additional link options could be added later. The two specific additional links that the team considered were a link from Dunoon to Rothesay and a link to Lochgilphead.

 

In our consideration, based on local knowledge, we considered that a bridge over Loch Fyne should be to the NW of the proposed bridge, crossing near to Asknish. We believe this to be the narrowest part of Loch Fyne. This is a much shorter  link and, we assume, much less expensive. 

 

This Corridor 05 option also includes an upgrade of the A815 from Glen Branter to Sandbank. This would be a welcome feature as part of a phased  Corridor 04 plan, which would see the upgrades to the  northern section of the A815.

 

We would also here suggest that any road link from Lochgilphead to the A815 should be designed with a future rail dimension in mind. Any bridges, tunnels, cuttings, etc should be designed with a two track rail option in mind. A future rail station at Lochgilphead would be  produce a massive boost in the economic fortunes of this area of Argyll.  

 

The economic benefits identified for Corridor 04 would extend to other areas of Argyll with this modified plan for Corridor 05.

 

The CFLWG would be therefore  supportive of Corridor 05 as part of a phased approach based on Corridor 04.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Partially

As currently envisaged, no. Yes – as a further phase of Corridor 04.

As currently envisaged, no. Yes if seen as a subsequent phase of Corridor 04. 

As currently, envisaged, minimal. Substantial if seen as an outgrowth of Corridor 04.

 

Corridor 06

 

At first sight, this seems an attractive option. It diverts traffic south along an upgraded A815 and crosses  the Clyde at the traditional crossing from Dunoon to Gourock. This then links, via the A770, to the major A8 / M8  towards Glasgow Airport and Glasgow at Greenock. It would be probably be faster than the current A83 / A82 connection to Glasgow. However,  there is major stumbling block.

 

The CFLWG considered two options for a fixed link across the Clyde:

 

  • At the narrowest part of the Clyde from Dunoon Pier to the former Cloch Lighthouse. This is known locally as the site of the WW2 submarine net across the Clyde.

 

  • From Dunoon Pier to the Gourock Railhead.

 

The CFLWG was not funded by any external bodies. All work done by its members over eight years was entirely voluntary. Therefore, we could not commission any professional engineering feasibility studies. However, we did get some pro bono advice from a professional tunnelling engineer, who had worked on major projects in Europe, on the Clyde crossing options. This advice is informal, and will need substantiated if further work was to be done on Corridor 06. In summary:

 

  • The base of the Clyde at this point is mainly silt to a depth of many metres.

 

  • A tunnel option would require a tunnel through silt, which is notoriously difficult. When the original Clyde tunnel was built in the early 60s at Whiteinch in Glasgow, the same problem was encountered. This was apparently solved by freezing the silt and drilling through the frozen base.  This was major challenge for a tunnel 400 metres long. The Corridor 06 option would be a tunnel in the region of 2km. Another way of avoiding the silt issue is to tunnel beneath it, but this would mean that, in order to have a manageable incline on either end of the tunnel, the entrances would have to be possibly 2km or more from the tunnel.

 

The informal estimate for a tunnel at this part of the Clyde, excluding any provision for access roads and associated infrastructure, was in excess of £2Bn.

 

  • A bridge option would encounter many engineering challenges for basing supports in the silt base. However, the reason that the CFLWG dropped the idea of a bridge at this part of the Clyde is weather. There is major marine traffic, military and non-military, using the Clyde at this point. Therefore, any bridge would have to be a significant height over the river.  Or possibly, a swing bridge. We are aware that there are modern engineering solutions to wind and weather proof bridges or swing bridges. But we doubt that they would be sufficient against increasingly frequent severe storms which blow in unrestricted from the South West. Much of the economic benefit of providing a link between Cowal / South Argyll and the Central Belt is based on a secure weather proof connection; we doubt that a bridge at this section of the Clyde would provide that.

 

Another reason that the CFLWG dropped further consideration of the specific Corridor 06 plan is that a rail link is probably impossible. A rail link route could not be found in the mid- 19th century to continue the rail line beyond the current Gourock station. Finding a line for a rail line from the Cloch Lighthouse to the Gourock railhead through modern Gourock seems unlikely.

 

The CFLWG does not support Corridor 06.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes

No

No 

Yes

 

Corridor 07

 

Corridor 07 is seen by us as another version of Corridor 05, but without the possibility of being modified to be a further phase of Corridor 04. It also has all the problems of the Clyde Crossing outlined in  Corridor 06.

 

A link between Dunoon and Lochgilphead, with a crossing of Loch Fyne, is, as indicated earlier, something we would support. Again, we would welcome if a Loch Fyne crossing at Asknish could be explored.

 

The CFLWG would not support Corridor 07.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Partially

No

No 

As currently, envisaged, minimal. Substantial if seen as an outgrowth of Corridor 04.

  

Corridor 08a and 8b

 

We find these to be very interesting and exciting proposals, albeit not as a rapid solution to the RABT. Either of these proposals would give Argyll and Western Scotland a level of infrastructure that would absolutely transform the economy. One option brings Rothesay and Bute into the equation. It upgrades major thoroughfares in Argyll.  However, it connects to the Central Belt south of Largs near West Kilbride, which is probably not where the vast majority of the A83 traffic would wish to reach.

 

Some other points:

 

  • The Bute / Little Cumbrae / West Kilbride link would probably have to be a tunnel – see earlier comments about weather.

 

  • A rail option might be possible if the route from Dunoon to Rothesay to West Kilbride was designed with a rail option in mind. But it would be a long way to Glasgow.

 

  • This would be an expensive option.

 

The CFLWG is not averse to major investments in Argyll infrastructure, but not sure if this would not be a prolonged and difficult construction with economic benefit a long term prospect.

 

The CFLWG would not support Corridor 8a / 8b.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes – but traffic ends up in West Kilbride

Yes

From Dunoon to West Kilbride 

Substantial, but long term.

 

Corridor 09

 

This Corridor is a merge of one of the Corridor 08 links with parts of Corridor 05. However, it excludes Cowal and Dunoon, and is, in effect, a connection from Lochgilphead to West Kilbride. Other significant communities are bypassed. As mentioned in Corridor 08, it does little to fix the RABT in the immediate future, and makes the route for A83 traffic from the north and Inveraray more difficult and lengthy.

 

As for a future rail option, it is possible that the entire route from Lochgilphead to West Kilbride could be constructed with a rail dimension in mind. This would add stations at Lochgilphead and Rothesay, which is to be welcomed. But, it is a long way to Glasgow.

 

It would also be an expensive option.

 

The CFLWG would not support Corridor 09.

 

 

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Partially for traffic on the A82 south of Inveraray, but traffic ends up in West Kilbride

Yes

Yes, but not clear if this would have much demand.  

Not as much as Corridor 08 but probably substantial in the long term.

 

Corridor 10

 

This is a version of Corridor 06 but crosses the Clyde north of Dunoon. The CFLWG discussed this option at some length. It envisages two crossings – one across Loch Long from Strone to the Rosneath peninsula and a second across the Rhu Narrows at Gareloch. The upgrade to the A815 from Cairndow to Whistlefield and, in particular, the upgrade to the single track C9 (Larach) through Glen Finart, and finally the upgrade of the A880, at least as far as Strone, is to be welcomed.

 

The Working Group, for weather reasons, envisaged that the Loch Long crossing should be a tunnel. Also, a bridge at this site would have to be at a significant height due to marine traffic and such a construction would be visually intrusive at this site.

 

The Rhu Narrows crossing would probably have to be a bridge. Particularly on the Rhu side, finding a location for a tunnel entrance would possibly be difficult due to existing housing. We were advised that, in the 1990s, Argyll & Bute Council had carried out a detailed investigation into building a bridge at this site. However, the project was dropped due to objections from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). We assume these objections would still have to be overcome.

 

This route would provide an excellent road link from Cowal / Dunoon to Glasgow. In fact, this is the best option of all for such traffic. But, it does make the RABT diversion longer than could be achieved through Corridor 04. 

 

A rail link along this route would certainly be possible. A further short crossing of the Holy Loch  would be needed and this would provide stations at Sandbank and Dunoon. On the Rhu side, a rail link would connect to the main Helensburgh / Glasgow line outside Rhu. A future rail link to Rothesay could also be envisaged.

 

If this was Corridor was a viable consideration as against Corridor 04, then the CFLWG would support. This was our second choice of a fixed link between South Argyll / Cowal and the Central Belt.

 

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Yes

Yes

Yes  

Substantial

 

Corridor 11

 

This is the Lochgilphead version of Corridor 10. It has all the disadvantages of Corridors 05 and 07. It does not fix the RABT issue for all A83 traffic and is a long diversion from the current route. As mentioned for Corridor 10, it provides an excellent fixed link from Cowal / Dunoon to the Central Belt. As with Corridor 10, it gives an option for a future rail link.

 

This would be a third preference for the CFLWG. Corridors 04 and 10 would be better in our view.

 

Assessment against Overarching Principles

Fix RABT

Phasing

Rail Option

Additional Economic Benefit

Partially

Yes

Yes  

Substantial

 

 

Northern Ireland Link

 

The CFLWG has been aware for some time of discussion at a political level of a bridge / tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Two options have been proposed:

 

  • Link from Argyll west of Campbeltown to North Antrim (sea crossing 18km)

 

  • Link from Portpatrick to Larne (sea crossing 35km)

 

The CFLWG has no position on this proposal. We have not done any work or research on costs or benefits. We are aware that the Scottish Government has repeatedly stated that they have no plans for such a link.

 

However, if this link were to proceed to the feasibility stage, we would encourage the Scottish Government / Transport Scotland to endorse the Argyll option. The economic benefit to Argyll / Western Scotland would probably be significant. We would ask that the possibility of such a link at some point being constructed should be included in the design of any Corridor option to be moved forward to the next stage. At least, that such an eventuality should not be excluded by any design options selected.     

 

Community group: Are you a member of any community group that you feel should form part of our engagement plans? If so which one?

 

This response is from Cowal Fixed Link Working Group. This is a group of active and former Councillors, Community Councillors and Business people. David McKenzie is the Chair of this group. We have been active for more than 8 years examining the issues and proposals contained in this Transport Scotland consultation. We clearly feel we should be part of the engagement plans. 

 

Do you think the format for the virtual sharing of information on this project and the opportunity to contact the team via email or telephone is suitable? Can you suggest any alternatives?

 

We are happy to share information and participate with the project team in whatever fashion is appropriate. We can use phone, Zoom email or any other method you propose.

 

Contact Details

 

David McKenzie, Chair, Cowal Fixed Link Working Group

Email

djmck@btconnect.com

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