Highland Council Leader to meet with Transport Secretary over Stromeferry Bypass

Following initial disruption and lengthy delays, the introduction of a new signalling system in October has reduced waiting times.

The Leader of the Highland Council has said she will meet with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson later this month to determine how to progress with replacement options for the Stromeferry Bypass.

Council Leader Margaret Davidson’s comments came during a lively meeting of the council’s environmental, development and infrastructure committee on Thursday morning (8th November), in which Councillor Ian Cockburn put forward a motion whereby the local authority would determine if funds were available for design work to begin on replacement options to the bypass. This motion was agreed.

Speaking to the Free Press earlier this week, the chair of the EDI committee, Councillor Allan Henderson said that the council was putting pressure on the Scottish Government to have the route classed as a trunk road. However, during Thursday’s meeting Councillor Cockburn was quick to dismiss the likelihood of this happening: “Who in their right mind would take 50 miles of the worst road in the Highlands” He said. “After six and a half years we still only have two options… and the delays and the consequences for the wider community have been absolutely shocking.”

The SNP member for Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh also went on to question the tendering process behind the work at the bypass, saying: “Was it necessary to shut the road during the day? I believe there was a tender on the table that would have allowed the road to open during the day.”

He went on to argue that the council needed to release money straight away to enable design work on the replacement options for the current bypass to begin, adding that it was a matter of urgency due to the risks identified in the 2018 annual sloping report which detailed four very high-risk rock slopes at the Stromeferry bypass.

In response to Councillor Cockburn, the council’s head of infrastructure Colin Howell said that the council did receive an alternative tender from a contractor who said they could carry out the required works at night, however, Mr Howell said the cost was significant and due to concerns about these plans it was decided it would be wise for some of the work to be undertaken during the day.

Mr Howell said that while there were ongoing issues with rockfalls and managing slopes, he believed that the council had done a good job. He went on to add that the council were prioritising the high-risk slopes and currently working on the cost and details in relation to stabilising those areas which would be delivered at the next EDI committee meeting. He added that there were “three optimum solutions” in respect to replacement options and said that the committee had “decided to leave those three on the table” and seek dialogue with Scottish Government for funding. He said: “The administration is looking for feedback, we are working on slopes with high risks and will come back to the next EDI with the costing.”

Councillor Derek MacLeod described the current situation as “one episode in a long, long history of problems with the route”, and in contrast to his fellow ward member, Councillor Cockburn, he argued that the route should be “trunked between Auchtertyre and Garve” as he believed it to be strategic in linking the ferry points of Uig and Ullapool

Council Leader Margaret Davidson told the committee that she would be meeting with the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson and would report back “what options have been put on the table.” Councillor Davidson said that the council were “acutely aware of what’s needed” and were working towards a long-term sustainable option for Stromeferry. She also thanked the public for their cooperation during the works and the council staff for their efforts.

By Adam Gordon