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Potholes show we are not a priority, Wick community councillor claims

By Alan Hendry

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Long-suffering motorists in Wick are having to spend money on new tyres "every five or six weeks" because of damage caused by potholes, it has been claimed.

One community councillor alleged that Caithness is "not a priority" for Highland Council, while another declared: "I think our towns are the worst in the Highlands."

The comments were made at the February meeting of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council on Monday night as Highland Council leader Raymond Bremner gave his monthly report.

Councillor Bremner, who represents the Wick and East Caithness ward, said: "I don't take personal offence at anything that anybody is saying here. I drive the roads too.

"So does every council worker that has to go to their work every day. They all have families. They all read the social media.

"Even though we have lists of priorities, that sometimes is of little solace to somebody who has got a giant pothole right outside their door, or that they are constantly having to avoid. It's personal to all of us."

He described the county's damaged roads as a legacy of some 15 years of underinvestment.

In October, Councillor Bremner confirmed that the local authority was on target for a capital spend of almost £3 million on Caithness roads within the current financial year.

Last week the Caithness committee recently agreed a prioritised programme of works for Caithness roads that is expected to cost almost £600,000, to be funded out of the capital budget allocation for 2024/25.

Community councillor Eswyl Fell said: "I've travelled quite a lot lately and I think our towns in Caithness are the worst in the Highlands. It's quite disheartening."

Community council treasurer Joanna Coghill: 'Our roads are crumbling, they're falling to bits.'
Community council treasurer Joanna Coghill: 'Our roads are crumbling, they're falling to bits.'

Joanna Coghill, the RBWCC treasurer, said: "Our roads are crumbling, they're falling to bits."

She told Councillor Bremner: "I get where you're coming from, you've got to do all these proposals and get the budget passed, but in the meantime we are the ones that are suffering, having to pay out every five or six weeks for new tyres. And not just tyres – it's wheels, and damage to the undercarriage.

"I'm getting really frustrated and angry because in my eyes, from Highland Council, we are not a priority and our safety doesn't matter."

Councillor Bremner insisted: "Everybody's safety matters."

He said: "With the amount of roads that we're seeing falling apart, it's shameful that over such a long period of time the council disinvested in its roads structure and we are now living in that legacy.

"To increase that [£3 million] even more, you would have to take that from some other services in the county. Even at £3 million, it will take a very long period of time to be able to continue to catch up on some of the roads that are falling apart.

"We're not the only place. I drove to Forsinard today, supporting the Flow Country World Heritage bid, and the A897 is falling apart – not just with the potholes, but with the size of the lorries they've got going up that road. The whole edge is going away from both sides.

"So there are different challenges in different places.

"It will take quite a long period of time to be able to recover the situation that we've got.

"What I'm hoping to do is to have some sort of agreed strategy."

He warned: "Remember, giving Caithness £3 million for this year, some areas of the Highlands didn't get – and at some point that might come home to roost."

Community councillor ​Norma Craven said: "There has to be an understanding that one thing that gets more will leave something else with less."

Chairman Allan Farquhar pointed out that moves are being made to arrange a public meeting in Caithness for "everyone who is concerned about the state of the roads".

He added that information has been supplied by Caithness Roads Recovery on the number of faults that have been reported.

Councillor Bremner gave an insight into the priorities of the local authority roads teams.

"Today it was flooding, it wasn't potholes," he explained. "But as soon as you get beyond the flooding, and they're not gritting, then the first thing that they would normally do is attend to potholes."

Community councillor David Dunnett asked: "Is there nobody that goes around now and checks the roads?"

Councillor Bremner told him: "Yes, we've got a roads engineer that goes around and checks the roads. He is quite a busy person"

Mr Dunnett responded: "He's needing to go to Specsavers."

However, Mrs Coghill pointed out: "There are only so many of the boys and it's a large county."

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