THE cost of tourism to remote communities is being called into question after shock figures reveal major roads into the west Highlands, Argyll and Bute were closed almost 200 times in just three years.
Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor is seeking an impact study to be carried out to assess how much these closures have affected businesses and the economy.
Angry constituents contacted the Conservative politician expressing concern at repeated and lengthy closures to the main trunk roads of the A82, A83 and A95.
Figures in a written Parliamentary answer from the Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown show the A82 Inverness to Glasgow road was closed 97 times between 2010 and 2012, the A83 Tarbet to Campbeltown road 43 times, and A85 Oban to Perth road 46 times – a total of 186 occasions.
The main reasons are road accidents, landslips and fallen trees.
Mr McGrigor said: “Constituents understand that serious road accidents will on occasion cause the closure of trunk roads due to the need for the police to conduct scene of crime investigations.
“ However, many constituents have expressed concern to me that the occurrence and duration of these closures, especially on the A82, has increased significantly in recent years and they are questioning why the roads cannot be reopened more quickly as they appear to have been in the past.
“As a result of these closures, some drivers have been forced to make lengthy and time consuming detours and I have also been told of constituents and tourists missing ferry connections in Oban as a result.
“Has any impact study been carried out of long delays on valuable Scottish tourism or for that matter local businesses?”
The MSP is now leading calls for such a review, adding: ““ While not wishing to underestimate the tragedy to families of fatalities on our Highland roads, it seems that litigation is perhaps being used to far too great an extent as an excuse for closing roads and in some cases ruining holidays.
“We are not talking of diversions of a few miles but in some cases many miles and this should be taken into consideration.
“ Constituents will hope that these figures encourage the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to look again at how they deal with the aftermath of accidents on these key roads.
“They should also spur the Scottish Government to look again at redoubling its efforts to improve road safety on these routes.”
Mr Brown revealed that the A82, A83 and A85 have, respectively, been closed for 97, 43 and 46 times over the last three full calendar years.
In this period, there were 11 fatal accidents on the A82, five on the A83 and 11 on the A85.
He added: “These closures have also resulted for a variety of other reasons, including fallen trees, the recovery of broken down vehicles and the consequences of road traffic accidents.
“The duration of the closures are dependent on the circumstances of each incident and the closures associated with slight or non-injury accidents are often relatively short in timescale.
“The lengthiest closures are often associated with the clearance and investigation of more serious accidents.
“Where the recovery and treatment of casualties is taking place, this has an obvious priority. Where accident investigations are taking place, the conduct of these is a matter for Police Scotland.”
The transport minister added that Transport Scotland work with Police Scotland on the diversionary routes for such closures and the clean-up of the site when the accident investigation is complete.
Superintendent Iain Murray, Scotland’s head of roads policing, said road closures were never taken lightly.
He said there had been 615 injury collision on the A82, 235 on the A83 and 311 on the A85 in the past five years, adding: “As can be seen from the total numbers of road closures, there have been many occasions on which these roads were not closed, in spite of an injury collision having occurred.
“The impact on local communities and the wider economy is always at the forefron of investigators’ minds. But there is a need to ensure that incidents are investigated thoroughly.”
A Transport Scotland said: “Sadly, the lengthiest closures are often associated with the clearance and investigation of serious accidents where the recovery and treatment of casualties is the obvious priority. Where accident investigations are taking place, the conduct of these is a matter for Police Scotland.
“We are committed to improving road safety and while the number of road casualties are at their lowest ever level, there is still simply no room for complacency. One death on any road is one too many and our focus continues to be on reducing numbers further through engineering, enforcement and education.”