The leader of Perth and Kinross Council has said closing a busy road to repair a historic bridge is “not on the cards”.
Urgent repairs are needed on the crumbling Cultullich Bridge on the A827, sparking fear that businesses in nearby Aberfeldy will lose crucial summer trade.
As the main route from the A9 to Aberfeldy, concerns were raised about plans to close the road for seven weeks from the end of August.
Angry opposition councillors said the administration must fork out for a temporary bridge to be installed to allow the road to stay open during the work and now council leader Murray Lyle has agreed closing the road completely would be the “worst possible option”.
He has called for option appraisals to be carried out to find a way to repair the bridge with the least possible impact on the route between Aberfeldy and Grandtully but said engineers have been hindered by strict conditions imposed by Scottish Natural Heritage and SEPA.
Their rules state work cannot be carried out at night and restricts the time of year it can be carried out, due to the presence of salmon and otters nearby.
Councillor Lyle said: “It’s a complex issue, it’s not just as straightforward as a simple bridge repair because of the demands of SNH and SEPA over what we can do and when we can do it.
“Obviously it’s a priority to try to keep the road open.
“The worst option available is to close the road in August but that’s not really on the cards for us – doing nothing is not an option.
“We are assessing all of the options available, and officers are going to come back with option appraisals and costs next week.”
SNP Highland Perthshire councillor Mike Williamson said money has only been earmarked for the repair work itself, not for a temporary bridge, and called on the council to use reserve funding if necessary.
“This has caused a great deal of anxiety among business owners in Aberfeldy,” he said.
“It would have a huge impact as the businesses rely on passing trade, particularly in the summer.
It is hoped the repairs will stabilise the embankment at the Cultullich crossing, about one mile east of the town, following a landslip four years ago.
The bridge has been shored up temporarily but engineers believe a long-term solution is needed to avoid a catastrophic collapse.
The embankment also carries the main BT fibre optic cable which provides internet services for the Aberfeldy and Kenmore areas.
The work will involve excavation of about 16ft, as well as the construction of a new concrete retaining wall and restoration of parts of the bridge.
Perthshire North MSP John Swinney said closing the A827 would be “disastrous”.
“These ill-thought out plans will prove disastrous for local businesse,” he said.
“It is inconceivable that, during peak season, the council would take such a reckless course of action.
“The proposed road closure will endanger jobs, lower profits and severely damage the local economy.
“I fully support the construction of a bailey bridge to ensure that there is minimal disruption to local communities. It is frankly ridiculous that such a proposal has not yet been signed off by the Tory administration, and I urge them to join us in supporting local businesses, rather than sitting on their hands.”
Councillor Angus Forbes, convener of the council’s environment and infrastructure committee, said: “The council understands that a road closure for this period of time would have a significant impact on residents and local businesses and officers earlier this month asked ward councillors to help identify relevant community stakeholders to engage with as part of the next stage of planning for the project.
“The council has been advised by the relevant environmental agencies that that there are legal and environmental obligations in relation to protecting the waterway and the wildlife which live in and around the river.
“As a result, work can only take place between May and October and during daylight hours to avoid disturbing protected nocturnal species.
“The feedback received via ward councillors, and directly, is now being considered.”