MOVES to push a major road closure back until after the Easter holiday have been welcomed by tourism chiefs.
The Bealach na Ba on the Applecross peninsula is to face six weeks of closures to allow fibre optic cable to be laid along the roadside.
Work had been set to start on March 26, just days before the Easter weekend – and the traditional start of the tourist season.
The move to close a section of the North Coast 500 had sparked concern among business leaders who feared it would damage vital trade at a key time of the year. Residents, who would have needed to take a 31-mile detour each way, were also worried about the impact on their daily lives.
But SSE has confirmed the start date has now been pushed back to April 9 – avoiding the start of the school half-term holidays.
It is understood the road will also be kept open on weekends – although work will continue and motorists could face short delays.
The move to push the date back to avoid the busy Easter holiday period comes after the North Star highlighted the issue last week.
Reacting to the change David Richardson, the Federation of Small Businesses’ developer manager for the Highlands and Islands, said: "I’m delighted. We are 100 per cent behind the roll out of fibre optic broadband and 100 per cent behind roads that are fit for purpose but I’m also delighted that common sense has prevailed because tourism is vital in that area."
Under the new plans the road will only be closed Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 4pm and again from 5.30pm to 11pm. The windows are aimed at minimising disruption for commuters.
Councillor Kate Stephen, who lives in nearby Lochcarron, said SSE had been very keen to consult with residents to minimise disruption and that the times could change further depending on any additional feedback the company received between now and April.
Cllr Stephen said: "They’ve taken this feedback on board and are continuing to take feedback.
"During weekends they won’t actually close the gates but will be keeping the work going and there could be delays of up to 15 minutes."
She added that she had liaised with SSE to see if the firm could compensate the community for the disruption and said it had agreed to give £25,000, in principle, to Applecross Community Council – which is currently in abeyance but is expected to be running before the work begins. The money would be used on local projects.
"In some ways it’s good news in that they didn’t have to give us anything. There’s still the inconvenience to individuals and groups but that is just the reality of roadworks everywhere – people will be inconvenienced. So it’s good for the village for it to get this cash."
She said she was happy for residents with concerns about the closures to get in touch and she would pass their feedback to SSE.