DESPERATE appeals to re-open a ruptured arterial road through the heart of the Lake District are attracting widespread support.

People living either side of what is now being called 'the gap' - a cavernous hole that opened up in the A591 during Storm Desmond - are demanding urgent action to repair the collapsed carriageway.

There are fears that a long delay in restoring the main road linking the southern Lake District with the north will lead to business closures - as well as tourism taking a hit in honeypot villages including Grasmere and Ambleside.

The closure between Dunmail Raise and Thirlmere has meant a 80-mile detour.

The journey between Grasmere and Keswick, which once took just 20 minutes, now takes two hours.

Army personnel from the 21 Engineer Regiment, based at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire, worked throughout the weekend to help clear thousands of tonnes of rubble caused by 18 separate landslides on the road.

Cumbria County Council said the scale of repair was 'significant' and that detailed assessments are taking place on the state of the road.

The authority is also looking at temporary options to reconnect the route, which may not open until Easter.

South Lakes MP Tim Farron called for the road to re-open in a “matter of weeks, not months” in Parliament on Tuesday.

He asked for additional funding to rebuild essential local infrastructure, adding: "This road is the key route which connects the north and south Lakes, and it would be crippling for businesses if it were to remain closed for months.

"It is great to see that businesses in Grasmere are open for trade, but the A591 is essential for them."

Two online petitions calling for urgent action have been set up.

One on Facebook has attracted more than 3,000 signatures. It was started by Mike Fearon, of Ambleside, who said there appeared to be no plan in place to make repairs to the road with the impact of its closure affecting many.

"If full scale machinery was moved in now, it would not take months," he said.

And referring to the fact that the army has this week removed landslides that spilled onto the road, he said: "No one has dragged their heels in pitching in to help with the flood damage and huge amounts have been achieved."

Cllr Vivienne Rees, South Lakeland district councillor for Grasmere and Ambleside, said there were people living in both communities who had elderly relatives with medical needs on the other side of Dunmail Raise.

She added in order to get to them people were having to travel to Kendal, go up the M6 and then onto the A66 to visit them.

A shorter route is travelling over Kirkstone Pass - but that is often closed over winter due to snow and ice.

"This is a national crisis and not just a local one. It is one that affects the country as a whole in terms of tourism," said Cllr Rees. "Speed is of the essence. It is going to be impossible for a lot of businesses to carry on if the repairs are not made urgently."

Cllr Heidi Halliday, Cumbria County councillor for the Lakes, said: "It is a matter of urgency that this road is repaired and we need to recognise that the Government has a huge part to play in this. We need the money to re-open and re-build that road and the Government should be offering us every available resource to allow that to happen.

"It's the backbone of the Lake District and it's gone. We need to make sure that we are applying for whatever funding is available to us."

Mrs Halliday's husband, Roger, runs Grasmere Weavers and the village Post Office.

On Saturday he registered only six sales and Sunday was forced to close early because only two sales had been made.

"Quite frankly we have taken a battering," said Cllr Halliday. "Up until this happened we were trading 50 to 100 per cent up on last year."

David Marshall, who runs Honeybee Meadow in Grasmere, said that December was a time when small businesses build up financial reserves for January.

"Problems can escalate very quickly for a small business at this time of year," he said. "I suppose one of the worst aspects of the situation is not knowing when the road will reopen. This is something we have to leave in the hands of the professionals, but I believe it must be a priority."

Pupils at Grasmere Primary School invited the military personnel to lunch so they could show their gratitude for the efforts being made to clear the A591.

Head teacher Jo Goode said the road closure was having a 'huge impact' on pupils living along Thirlmere on the "wrong side" of the gap.

"Rather than having a seven-mile journey into school they now have a 78-mile journey," she said. "We are lucky that local families are putting children up this week.

"We also have members of staff and parents who live north."

She added that children in the village who attended the secondary school in Keswick were having to do online learning from home as they were not able to make the journey.

Ms Goode said the school was investigating whether it would be feasible to run a shuttle bus service from either side of the 'gap' but at present it was not possible to walk safely alongside the hole with children.

Jane Hill used to be able to get her five year-old daughter Olivia to school by car in just ten minutes but now faces a two hour, 78 mile journey each way. She said: “I normally live in Thirlmere but I’ve had to move to Grasmere so that I can get Olivia to and from school. The roads I’d have to use to take the longer journey can be dangerous in winter, so my friend is letting me have one of her holiday cottages here in Grasmere for the rest of this week."

Retired GP Dr David Earnshaw questioned why the army was not asked to make a temporary bridge while soldiers were in the area.

He feared that it could be months before work starts on repairs as Cumbria County Council would be holding 'lots of meetings, deliberations and prioritising."

"It is an absolute must that this road is repaired urgently," he said. "It will ruin the local economy if it is not."

CCC's Keith Little, cabinet for Highways and Infrastructure, said: "On the A591 the scale of repair needed is significant and we’re doing detailed assessments now. We’re also urgently looking at temporary options to reconnect the route; but I need to be certain we can deliver these safely before we confirm our plans.

"There is no complacency here and we will bring in extra resources as required to get Cumbria’s road network fully-functional as quickly as possible.

"Visual inspections have been undertaken and structural assessments, including ground investigations, have now started. The results of these assessments are needed before we can be confident about the timescale for repairing the road."

"We are also assessing options for temporary measures which could allow people to travel past the damaged sections of road and reconnect the north and south ends. These are being developed as a matter of urgency and more detail will be available once their feasibility has been established."

L Following extensive emergency repair work, the A592 alongside Ullswater between Waterfoot and the Kirkstone Pass has been reopened to all traffic.

And St Lawrence road bridge and Jubilee footbridge in Appleby both reopened on Tuesday following underwater inspections by divers. The bridges had been closed as a precautionary measure.