Caithness 'left to crumble' as MSP calls for more cash to help fix £233m roads backlog
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A Highland MSP claims that people in the Highlands are being ignored as the far north is left to crumble.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant accused the Scottish Government of failing to fund the local authority to allow it to repair all the roads in its area.
She said the cost of the backlog for road repairs across the region currently stood at “a staggering” £233 million and she raised the issue with the transport minister last week.
The minister, Fiona Hyslop, told her that in 2024-25, Highland Council would receive £582.1 million to fund all local services, which equates to an extra £26.7 million to support vital day-to-day services, an additional 4.8 per cent compared to 2023-24.
The minister added that all councils would also receive their share of the currently undistributed sum of £365.3 million.
Mrs Grant said: “Hot on the heels of the Scottish Government telling health boards to pause any capital building projects, the transport minister tells me that the council’s total annual budget for this year is little more than twice that which is required to fix our roads.”
She added that Highland Council had advised her in December that the backlog stood at more than £233 million, with the cost of maintaining the steady state at nearly £34 million.
“My plea to government was that the repair figure had increased from last year’s figure of £200 million and, with Highland Council having the longest road network in Scotland, it stands to reason that they require proportionate resources to allow for the necessary repairs needed.
“I asked the minister to give the matter consideration and provide Highland Council with the resources they need to carry out the required repairs to the region’s roads before someone gets seriously hurt travelling on roads that are not fit for purpose.”
She added: “I have been ignored, as has every driver who is dodging potholes in the region. It’s simply not good enough. Vehicles are being damaged by the potholes and it will only be a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt, or worse, driving on our crumbling roads.”
Mrs Grant met with Caithness Roads Recovery (CRR) co-founder Iain Gregory last year to discuss the scale of the problem.
Mr Gregory said: “The county of Caithness is now no more than a patchwork quilt of neglect, an area apparently regarded as being so far from the seat of power in Holyrood that it can safely be ignored and marginalised, and the needs of the people disregarded.
“The Scottish Government would do well to note that this is a grave error.
“As our roads, our pavements, our schools across the Highlands, and our infrastructure, crumble before our eyes, and as even the long-promised funding for our desperately needed healthcare upgrades is snatched away from us, public anger is growing by the day.
“The time has come for the Scottish Government to take action – not words, not promises, but action – and action now."
The Scottish Government has said its capital funding position is extremely challenging and has called a halt to healthcare projects including the £80 million Caithness redesign project. It has said repeatedly that road maintenance on local roads is an issue for Highland Council.
The local authority’s Caithness committee agreed recently to a prioritised programme of works on the county’s roads that is expected to cost £594,452.
The work on structural overlay/inlay works and surface dressing schemes will be funded out of the Highland Council's Capital Budget allocation for 2024/25.
Caithness Committee chairman Cllr Ron Gunn said: “It has been well reported that the road network across Caithness is currently in a poor condition, making driving conditions for both residents and visitors challenging.
“It is important that as a committee we take every opportunity to raise the scale of the challenge before us. We know that we don’t have all the funding we need to do everything we want, but by agreeing the capital roads’ priorities for the coming year not only helps us allocate funding according to priority but sets out a clear work programme for our staff.
“We will continue to do the best we can with the resources we have.”