Balnacra Arts by Vicky Stonebridge

public meeting about Bypass

Further to my last blog about the Blocked road bypass situation, Monday 16th January saw a public meeting in Lochcarron to discuss the matter.

There is traditionally a low turn out for events here over the last few years, theatre and concerts will only attract a handfull of people. Well this time there was standing room only, The council website says 250, i estimated 300+. I haven’t seen anything like it in years! This was a measure of strength of feeling in the area.

This was when people where still filing in towards the back, many many more arrived.
Better photographs are on our local photographer, Alex Ingrams website here search for 17/10/2012 if that link doesn’t take you to the right day.

 Councillor Biz Campbell speaking here.
The meeting was attended by a list of councillors, folks from the relevant departments, Trans Scotland on behalf of the railways, northern constabulary and two of our SNP MSP’s Rob Gibson and Dave Thompson.
The meeting was Chaired by John Laing from the Council. First there was a presentation about the current situation, the background, short, medium and long term plans. Then questions. I jotted down some illegible notes, so may not have everything covered.
The ferries had started to run on that Monday, a passenger one for the school pupils and the Turntable from glenelg for up to 6 cars or 10 tonnes. The First ferry had had trouble starting with the hard frost, but new batteries were on order. The ferry operators were prepared to be flexible on running times, and as day light progresses extend them. Currently they are running a 6 day week from 7am until 6pm. details on Highland council website.
There will be an extra train service added to help commuters by running at a more convienient time, and to allow pupils to travel by train to school in case of bad weather affecting the ferry. Parents of pupils affected were invited to stay at the end of the meeting for a more private discussion with the school, transport representative and councillors as to how this was affecting the children, problems and potential solutions.

In the medium term steps are being taken to create a diversion for vehicular traffic via the railway, this will take a couple of weeks to put into place. This was used in 1990 ( or thereabouts ) to divert traffic on a traffic light system away from the rock faces while stabilisation work went ahead. While this diversion, and ferries and extra trains, are in place rock face stabilisation will be undertaken. Long term real solutions are currently being costed and investigated.

The planned time table for action is;
contractors have been invited to tender by 25th January
contractors to be on site 6th Feb
Road opened temporarily ( via railway ) 17th feb
stabilisation complete by 20th April 

long term possible solutions include;

  1. Diverting the road 14K over the hill
  2. a bridge/causeway? ( possibly funded by renewable tidal power scheme ) at Strome narrows.
  3. Extending the current concrete ‘avalanche’ shelter.
work could cost between £35 and £70 million.
Questions then went to the floor. I started the ball rolling, despite HATING public speaking, someones got to !  I asked what provision had been made for emergency fire cover?  Chief inspector David Bushel explained that The fire service had been involved in talks and had assured that sufficient provision was in place via Dingwall fire station as back up. 
There were then many questions, from some angry and frustrated people. Some very sensible suggestions, points and enquiries, some less sensible. Mostly local people who have been here before, who have seen this debate come to naught repeatedly. They asked the questions myself and other locals have also been putting into letters to the officials prior to the meeting, why wasn’t there a contingency plan ready to go from the outset? why was no long term solution found 22 / 15 years ago? What is it going to take to get an alternative in place? I think the council perhaps didn’t realise how wide and devastating the impact of this has been on our communities south and north of the loch. How vulnerable work and housing and family life is here. I’d like to see an serious impact assessment study being done & will suggest it, but its all time & money. Although money doesn’t seem to be the main issue here, there seems to be the political will to find a solution, and safety appears to be the main and number one priority.
Apparently when this kicked off 15 years ago and there was a referendum on preferred solutions, 160 voted for a bridge, 140 a hill road and 30 a shelter.

  • Why can’t we get a bigger more modern ferry? > the slipways are not standard design or angle, so  modern cal-mac boats could not land at them.
  • many questions about specifics of timetabling , length of time for children to be travelling to school etc> the council will take on suggestions and try to improve. possible shuttle train between strath and kyle separate from main time tables?
  • methods of getting information out, clear timetabling, clear road signage and information ? council again will try and improve things.
  • why not use 10% oil revenue like Norway does for roads ? > John Laing pointedly replied ‘ we COULD use oil revenue yes…’  …that’s one for the Scottish independence referendum i think.
The MSP’s and Biz Campbell all spoke about their desire to see a real long term solution in place. They have already been in talks with the Scottish Parliamentary cabinet on the issue. Rob Gibson also pointed out that long term thinking needs to take in climate change and more extreme weather events ( like the recent high rainfall which may well have contributed to the rockfall ) . Biz is all in favor of using turbine technology and renewable energy schemes to fund a bridge project, some members of the public seemed to feel this was a bit far fetched, but others are in favor ( as am I …joined up thinking ! )
Some acknowledgement was made of the sterling work done my the local council employees, who ensured that the railway was shuttered off from further rockfall within an hour, who have worked tirelessly around the clock at risk to their own safety. I also know that they have been receiving a lot of pressure and harassment from some people who seem to think a mountain fault line is the council workers fault. This is not acceptable.
  • questions raised about what happens in spring when the traffic increases and the ferries need to return to their own businesses?
  • Why was Network rail not in attendance at the meeting?
  • what weight limit would be on the railway diversion?> 44 tonne gross
  • why couldn’t the army get involved? it is not a manpower issue but a safety one, contractors will be used.
  • Could the northern marshaling area be moved from the golf course, 9 minutes away from the slipway? > possibly.
  • is there a date for a permenant solution?  the information is currently being gathered into the options.
next steps? the council will hold another public meeting in a months time. watch this space!
apologies for the delayed, long and disjointed blog post. Here are some pictures of me coming back from the dentists yesterday via the ferry, thanks very much to Morag & Ruiridh for the lift!
I wonder what the ferry collie-dog is called? he seems to be having the time of his life! The Ferry operators also deserve a round of applause for managing those difficult currents and working so hard to get folks back and forth.
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5 comments on “public meeting about Bypass

  1. Alison Orr
    January 19, 2012

    Good article by Derek Macleod in this week's WHFP, Vicky, re the option of a barrage with tidal wave generation. Thanks for keeping us all so well informed here and on Facebook!

  2. John MacLeod
    January 21, 2012

    The collie's name is Nakamura; 'Nak' and his mother, Kimi, are fixtures on the GLENACHULISH at Kylerhea each summer.

    Thanks for these very informative postings on your difficult local situation. I found your analysis last weekend most helpful in writing my newspaper column this week.

  3. Vicky
    January 21, 2012

    Thanks for your comments Alison & John. & thanks also for info on the doggies, they were great! Which paper are you with John?

  4. John MacLeod
    January 21, 2012

    Scottish Daily Mail, Vicky; I have a column every Thursday and this week was about the Strome crisis. (My uncle was Free Church minister of Lochcarron in the late Sixties and I must be one of the youngest people to remember the old Strome ferry.) There is a very good Facebook fan-page for the GLENACHULISH and her Kylerhea service, with a lot posted recently re Strome and ongoing adoration of the collie-dogs:https://www.facebook.com/groups/83543034457/

  5. Vicky
    January 21, 2012

    thanks for that link John! I'll pick up a copy of the paper tomorrow. we're got a facebook group to to try & pool the latest information about the Bypass situation.https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bypass-closure-A890-Strath-Strome/151842611596128

    If you want me to add you into press releases for projects and happenings we're involved with message me at pottery@balnacra.com with your mail! Thanks for your interest!

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