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'There are roads we cannot afford to fix,' says Caithness Committee chair


By David G Scott

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Though members of the Caithness Committee approved a prioritised roads structural maintenance programme for this year (2021/22), the chair admitted "difficult decisions have had to be made" and only one-third of the roads earmarked for the programme can be fixed.

The roads structural maintenance for the Caithness area are two-fold and costings are split between the Revenue Budget and the Capital Budget:

  • The Capital Budget allocation for Caithness is £1,202,581, and the agreed priorities are to undertake structural overlay/inlay works and surface dressing schemes. Over 140 repair areas have been identified in the report.
  • The current Revenue Budget allocation for Caithness is £1,268,994 which is primarily required to cover labour, plant, materials for cyclical maintenance and salt required for winter maintenance for the 2021/22 season.

The programme is based on current priorities.

Wick and east Caithness councillor Nicola Sinclair is chair of the Caithness Committee. Picture: DGS
Wick and east Caithness councillor Nicola Sinclair is chair of the Caithness Committee. Picture: DGS

Councillor Nicola Sinclair, chair of the Caithness Committee, said: “The discussion of our Structural Maintenance Programme for roads really highlights the scale of the challenge we face. The Highland Council has doubled our capital budget for this year 2021/22, yet we can only repair one third of the roads on the programme, and this is only four per cent of the total length of roads in Caithness. This means difficult decisions must be made, and the council needs to prioritise high usage classified roads."

The programme of works is prepared over the winter months and finalised in the spring to allow for additional damage due to "freeze-thaw" cycle. The winter of 2020 has had a "serious effect" on the road network, said a council spokesperson. The programmes reflect both the strategic network and the importance attached to local roads by rural communities.

Part of the A99 road near John O'Groats. Picture: DGS
Part of the A99 road near John O'Groats. Picture: DGS

Councillor Sinclair continued: "It gives us no pleasure to report back to the public that there are roads we cannot afford to fix, but what I can say is that we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. "In the meantime, the council’s roads team has already started work on the roads most in need of repair and as a committee, we have expressed our appreciation and thanks to them for continuing those efforts. It is vitally important that the Caithness Committee is as transparent as possible about the decisions made and the scale of the challenge before us.”

The Highland roads budget for 2021/22 was approved at the council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee on February 4. The total Highland roads capital budget is £17.2M.

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