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Roads in Caithness face 'complete collapse' unless action is taken, says campaign group

By Gordon Calder

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CAITHNESS is facing "a complete collapse of the road infrastructure" unless action is taken to fix the problem.

That was the stark warning made by Iain Gregory when he spoke at the first meeting of the Thurso Community Council to be held in public since the coronavirus pandemic struck 18 months ago. He said the county could face another Highland Clearances if people can't get the medical care they want, the jobs they need and can't drive on the roads due to the potholes and condition of the surfaces.

Iain Gregory says roads in Caithness face collapse if action is not taken.
Iain Gregory says roads in Caithness face collapse if action is not taken.

Mr Gregory, who set up the Caithness Roads Recovery campaign group with Helen Campbell in February, said the state of local roads is a symptom of "apparent neglect and a deeper malaise."

When he moved here 31 years ago the county was vibrant and well run but there has been a deterioration over the past three decades, he said.

"It is vital people are safe, comfortable and have a good lifestyle but they are suffering one cut after another. It has got to stop."

Mr Gregory stressed he is not blaming the road crews of Highland Council who are dealing with "massively reduced resources" but feels politicians of all parties must work together to solve this problem.

Letters have been written to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, while MSPs and councillors in the Highlands have also been contacted. "There have been some positives but there are still hundreds of areas which need attention. We are looking at a complete collapse of the road infrastructure and winter is coming," he warned.

Mr Gregory said the entire Caithness roads maintenance budget at Highland Council will be spent soon an there will be no money left. Repairs will then have to be done on an ad hoc basis but dozens of roads require urgent work.

"This pass the parcel approach has to stop. The UK Government says it is up to the Scottish Government but it says it is an issue for Highland Council but the local authority has not got the money to deal with the scale of the problem.

"It is time to forget politics and sit down and sort this out. If not somebody is going to get killed and I do not want to see that happen," he said.

Quoting Highland Council figures, Mr Gregory said it would cost £5 million to bring roads in Caithness to an acceptable level and £20 million to get them back to "a high quality standard."

"We need proper funding to put this right and it is not a big amount in relative terms," he said.

While Mr Gregory sympathised with the local authority's financial difficulties, he suggested it could cut out what he termed "vanity projects which achieve nothing" and use the money to tackle the roads and other problems affecting the area.

"If you own your house and the roof is leaking and the foundations are collapsing you don't build a new conservatory," he stated.

Mr Gregory claimed Caithness has been "an afterthought for far too long" and pointed out that the campaign group has joined forces with CHAT to try and get a fair deal for the far north on roads and healthcare.

He said if people can't get the medical care, the jobs and roads they require, they will leave the area.

"We don't want another Highland Clearances so we are going to keep fighting. We are not going to back off. If we work together we can fix this," he added.

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