Closing the door on Strome bypass

A Holyrood committee has denounced the “profoundly disappointing” closed door approach by the Scottish Government to a call for solutions at the Stromeferry bypass in Wester Ross.

Kyle resident Derek Noble raised a petition in the parliament calling for the A890 at Stromeferry to be trunked in order to resolve safety issues on the Highland Council-owned route which has seen numerous rockfalls over the years.

But at a meeting of the parliament’s citizen participation and public petitions committee last week, members reluctantly agreed to close Mr Noble’s petition, along with his second one asking that the A832 between Achnasheen and Gorstan be trunked.

Derek Noble
Pictures: Willie Urquhart

Transport secretary Fiona Hyslop responded to the committee’s request for clarity on why the roads did not qualify for trunk road status by stating that a recent review considered them to be “out of scope” as they did not provide direct access to a major port or airport, or other nationally important developments.
Although not a committee member, Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant was given an opportunity to speak and told colleagues: “I share the committee’s disappointment at the cabinet secretary’s response, because it repeats what has been said before. It takes no notice of the fact that residents on the other side of the Stromeferry bypass need to cross the bypass for hospital care and secondary education and to support the economy of the area. The alternative route takes six hours, and that cuts off the area’s economy.”

Ms Grant said previous costings by Highland Council for a replacement route at Stromeferry could now be as much as £159 million – while the council received £33.6 million of capital funding this year.

“How many years using its full capital budget allocation would it take for it to fix the road? It is absolutely not feasible,” she said. “The Scottish Government’s response has basically said to those communities that it is tough, that Highland Council cannot afford to do the work because the government does not fund it adequately and that it is washing its hands of the whole situation. That is not a sustainable position.”
Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing proposed that the petitions be closed as he did not believe that there was anything further that the committee could do.

Committee convener Jackson Carlaw said: “The issue that the committee must wrestle with is the – as you have said, profoundly disappointing – closed door that was presented to us by the Scottish Government.”
But he added: “As a committee, we have to be satisfied that we have a realistic opportunity to advance matters. I am not persuaded that we have, but Rhoda Grant’s testimony on the consequences will be on the official record of the parliament.”

The committee agreed to summarise Ms Grant’s view, unanimously, and express it to the government with the hope that it might take further action.