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Rural routes in Caithness could 'virtually collapse' if there is a harsh winter


By Alan Hendry

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Caithness Roads Recovery co-founder Iain Gregory in Wick's Union Street as Highland Council workers carry out repairs to potholes. Picture: Alan Hendry
Caithness Roads Recovery co-founder Iain Gregory in Wick's Union Street as Highland Council workers carry out repairs to potholes. Picture: Alan Hendry

Concerns have been raised over the potential impact of a harsh winter on Caithness roads, with a warning that some rural routes could “virtually collapse”.

Caithness Roads Recovery co-founder Iain Gregory claimed the north was losing out because of a “massive imbalance” in the way funding is allocated by the Scottish Government.

He welcomed improvements being carried out by Highland Council on one of the county's most badly potholed streets but said much more needs to be done.

Speaking after watching a council team beginning resurfacing work in Wick's Union Street on Friday, Mr Gregory said: “We are pleased to see that some repairs are being carried out. We note that there are repairs in Union Street and there have been several carried out in Thurso and in one or two of the landward areas.

“From the very beginning we have said we would never blame the hard-working men and women on the roads teams, or indeed the back-up staff in the offices. They are doing the very best they can with the very limited resources with which they're supplied.

“The data shows that there are about 3600 outstanding reports for each roads manager in Highland Council. Thousands of repairs are needed in Caithness. Roads crews are having to work in all weathers. The blame is not theirs. There is a lot yet to be done.”

Last week, Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss called on local MSP Maree Todd to look into funding “discrepancies” that he argues have seen Highland Council short-changed and allowed 18,000 road complaints to build up region-wide.

Councillor Reiss pointed out that public documents show how the council “receives approximately five per cent of the allocated capital roads budget [from the Scottish Government] but has 12 per cent of local authority roads”.

Mr Gregory said: “The Scottish average spend is nearly £7000 per annum per kilometre, £3800 approximately in 'similar' council areas, and £2244 in our area.

“As Matthew Reiss pointed out, if we have 12 per cent of the roads, why are only receiving five per cent of the total budget? There is a severe anomaly there that has to be looked into.

“It was described by Matthew as a funding discrepancy. I would certainly say there is a very strong need to investigate that.

“I've heard the argument before that our roads here are single-track and they're remote, etc. I think the problem is that this has been based on population as opposed to the length of roads and indeed on the capital assets.

“Is it fair to say that because you live in a remote area you should receive less money, poorer-quality service, poorer-quality attention to your assets than if you happen to live in the centre? Well, obviously it isn't.

Highland Council workers carrying out repairs on Union Street, Wick, at the end of last week. Picture: Alan Hendry
Highland Council workers carrying out repairs on Union Street, Wick, at the end of last week. Picture: Alan Hendry

“A second figure tells us that we are receiving less than one third of the Scottish average. How can it possibly be correct?

“This needs to be investigated and it needs to be investigated properly."

Mr Gregory added: “At the moment we are told that Highland Council has got somewhere in the region of 18,000 outstanding road defect reports.

“I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the total number of reports over 12 months [up to the end of October 2021] and I was told it was in excess of 9000. That means that we've got at least 9000 that are more than a year old.

“I also asked for the figures for Caithness and I was informed, 'We are unable to provide you with the number of reports for the Caithness area as this information is not held by Highland Council.'

“On the evidence of the current condition of the roads, the evidence of what we can see for ourselves, many of the repairs that have been carried out are patches. It's simply a patchwork.

“We need one hard winter, one old-fashioned Caithness winter, and I honestly believe that the road system in some of the country areas will virtually collapse.

“It's in a dreadful state now – what is it going to be like after winter?

“My prediction for the winter is that there is going to be a lot of trouble. We have thousands of repairs required in the county and frankly I see a winter of discontent coming.”


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