Home   News   Article

Campaigner warns Caithness tourism businesses are paying the price for ‘years of neglect’

By Alan Hendry

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!

Hard-working tourism business owners in Caithness are paying the price for "years of apathy and neglect" by governments and the local authority, it has been claimed.

Iain Gregory, co-founder of Caithness Roads Recovery (CRR), warned that visitors "are simply going to stop coming" if they have to endure substandard roads infrastructure – harming a vital industry and adding to the county's depopulation concerns.

He was speaking after a woman who owns a camping pod business complained to Highland Council over the "horrendous" state of the road at her property on the loop road off the A99 at Auckengill.

Debbie Prouse runs Hillside Camping Pods at Auckengill.
Debbie Prouse runs Hillside Camping Pods at Auckengill.

Debbie Prouse says the surface is so rutted and full of potholes that it is "falling apart". She pointed out that when she obtained her short-term let licence last year she was told that the money from the licensing scheme would be spent on tourism infrastructure – but so far there had been no evidence of that.

Mr Gregory said: "This is precisely the sort of situation which CRR has been warning about for the past three years.

"Caithness is fortunate to have a large number of excellent, high-quality businesses which are very attractive to the vital tourist trade, but there is no doubt whatsoever that people are simply going to stop coming if they are faced with a roads infrastructure which is – at best – little more than Third World standard.

"Only the other day I was in conversation with a very senior business leader who was on holiday in the county. They spoke of the wonderful scenery, the hospitality, the quality of our venues and the huge opportunities that we have to promote the county as a top-quality tourist destination – but there was disbelief at the appalling state of our roads.

"I explained that we needed about £25 million to put things right, and – for the first time ever – I received complete agreement when I said this was a very small sum indeed from a national perspective.

"Every day, Caithness businesses – from the smallest cottage industry right up to the top of the scale – work tirelessly to promote the county, to provide employment and to build our economy, and what do we get from our centralised and apparently utterly uninterested 'leadership'? One piece of totally unnecessary and restrictive legislation after another, a complete refusal by the Scottish Government to provide a single penny extra to rebuild our collapsing infrastructure, and an apparent desire to turn Caithness into nothing more than a giant wind farm to satisfy the aspirations of an urban elite, many of whom would fit very nicely into the category described by Fergus Ewing as 'wine bar pseudo-intellectuals whose fingernails have never encountered dirt'.

Iain Gregory says £25 million is needed to 'put things right' on Caithness roads. Picture: Mel Roger
Iain Gregory says £25 million is needed to 'put things right' on Caithness roads. Picture: Mel Roger

"It is about time someone stood up and told the truth, exactly as it is, and I have no hesitation in doing so. We face disastrous depopulation, but the recent 95-page document produced and distributed from Holyrood [Addressing Depopulation Action Plan] contains not one single reference to 'Caithness', 'Wick' or 'Thurso'.

"Nowhere can we find a single word about upgrading our vital arteries to the south, the long-promised funding for our healthcare facilities has been 'paused' and, in the meantime, hard-working business people like Mrs Prouse pay the price for years of apathy and neglect.

"Highland Council, Scottish Government and Westminster are all responsible and they all have a duty to get together and sort out this disaster before it is too late – and CRR will continue to say so. Caithness does actually matter."

Mr Gregory added: "I expect to see a very clear accounting of precisely how the funds raised in Caithness by the imposition of the short-term letting licence legislation have been spent. A Freedom of Information request may well follow in due course."

Mrs Prouse runs Hillside Camping Pods, with two pods and a shepherd's hut that opened in July 2019.

Speaking as her 2024 season got under way, Mrs Prouse said: "The road is literally falling apart with deep ruts on either side and huge potholes.

The rutted and potholed Auckengill loop road where Debbie Prouse runs a camping pod business.
The rutted and potholed Auckengill loop road where Debbie Prouse runs a camping pod business.

"A week before my guests arrive I send them directions and check-in details. And now I'm having to add in capital letters that once they've turned off the A99 please be extremely cautious as there are very large potholes.

"People do reviews, and one in October said they just thought it was a rough farm track – they didn't even realise it was a council road."

The A99 between Wick and John O'Groats is part of the North Coast 500 route.

Highland Council has been asked to respond to Mrs Prouse's concerns.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More