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Councillor Bremner questions underspend on Caithness roads

By David G Scott

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A Wick councillor tackled a Highland Council committee chairwoman over the roads underspend for Caithness at a meeting last week.

At last Thursday's meeting (September 9), Wick and east Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner questioned Highland Council’s chair of economy and infrastructure, Cllr Trish Robertson, on future roads funding for Caithness and the Highlands.

Councillor Bremner tackled Highland Council on the underspend on Caithness roads at a meeting last week. Picture: DGS
Councillor Bremner tackled Highland Council on the underspend on Caithness roads at a meeting last week. Picture: DGS

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Bremner said: "“There has been considerable concern by members of the public, especially in Caithness, in respect of the roads infrastructure.

"For some time there has been an underspend of the committed funding by council for the roads infrastructure in Caithness and in other areas of Highland. It is imperative that the extra committed funding this year is spent and that this is the case for next year also.”

The committee chair, Trish Robertson, replied: “Previous underspends in roads infrastructure have arisen due to a variety of factors including extreme weather conditions, and Covid, which affected all of the Highlands.

Highland Council’s chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Trish Robertson.
Highland Council’s chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, Trish Robertson.

"In terms of the extra funding committed for this year, the council has made good progress in completing our area roads maintenance programmes over the summer season, and has committed all of its budget in relation to investment in roads plant and machinery. For Caithness, the surface dressing element of the programme is now fully complete and has been delivered in-house by the Caithness and Sutherland roads teams."

Speaking to the paper, Cllr Bremner said that whilst he was aware of the progress being made, it was "still disappointing that 'extreme weather conditions' and 'Covid' were referred to as reasons for underspend" when the underspend in Caithness has been "consistent year-on-year for a number of years – not just in the past two".

At the Thursday meeting, he then asked the chair: “Will there be a commitment to further increased funding in the current period and at least the same increased commitment in financial years 2023 and beyond to continue to get our roads infrastructure back to the condition that is necessary to support our communities and commerce in Caithness and throughout the Highland area?”

Badly potholed road near Freswick. Picture: DGS
Badly potholed road near Freswick. Picture: DGS

Cllr Robertson responded saying that the "capital programme is currently being reviewed" and that roads is an important part of that review. She said that all members would be involved in the review of capital allocation, including roads and "it will be reported to council in October".

Cllr Bremner then said: “I welcome the fact that the extra funding is indeed being spent this year and that a review is underway. The council’s commitment to extra funding is for this year and next year only and will not be enough to enable an accelerated recovery of the roads infrastructure.”

Commenting after the meeting, he said that "another £20M would be a real boost to the recovery programme" for the Highland area and would provide Caithness with around £2M. "That would be more than previous years and certainly many times more than the amount actually spent," he added.

“I was clear with the chair that the previous underspend of roads funding in Caithness has been of real concern. Whilst we have delivered nearly all of the allocated funding for road repairs for this year, we already need to be looking at future funding so that we can allocate resources appropriately and identify where the money should be spent [for road recovery].”

Cllr Bremner says he is very keen to make sure the council delivers on road repairs for Caithness this year "after exposing the underspend that has been happening in the county for a number of years".

"I wanted official confirmation that the council could give comfort to the people of Caithness that the full amount of committed funding [for the county] would actually be spent this year – for the first time in a number of years."

Related article:

Wick councillor highlights 'chronic underspend' of £1m on Caithness roads

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