A new bridge for Bernera, which could be completed as early as January 2021, might serve the island for a lifespan of 30 years, councillors heard today (Wednesday 23 September).
But there are barriers to progress on the project which could delay the work, despite the local urgency of the situation, and a longer-term solution may still need to be found.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar's transportation and infrastructure committee today heard a progress update on the bridge, which has been placed under a permanent weight restriction since structural weaknesses were identified earlier this year.
At their meeting in August, councillors discussed the emerging situation and heard that an interim bridge, running alongside the existing structure, would cost about £500,000 and would have a likely lifespan of 25 years.
They were told that a more substantial replacement bridge – effectively a permanent solution – would cost in the region of £5 million.
At that meeting the Comhairle was asked to find the funding for the interim structure and the director for assets, finance and resources was asked to submit a report outlining the options for a long-term replacement of the bridge.
Today, councillors heard that costs are now estimated at £2m for the immediate solution – four times the allocated funds which have already been agreed. The proposed design would have a predicted lifespan of 30 years.
Committee chair Councillor Uisdean Robertson said that there were ‘critical factors to be resolved’ if work is to progress quickly.
He said: "Work on the design and procurement is progressing very well indeed but the requirement for a marine licence means that the project could be delayed by several weeks.
“Officers are working with colleagues in Highland Council to find a solution to that issue as soon as possible as we do not want to see such important and urgent community works being unnecessarily delayed. If required, we will write to the Scottish Government seeking their support in expediting the process.
"The earliest timescale for completion would be January 2021, with this being extended to April 2021 should the full consultation period for marine licensing be required.
“Further information will be made available as appropriate and the Comhairle wishes to thank the community for their continued patience."
It’s not been made clear whether the suggested interim solution is still to be followed by a longer-lasting permanent structure, or whether this issue will be deferred for a future administration to resolve.