An SNP political candidate has argued Aberdeenshire Council should “put their hand in their pocket” and use its £45 million of reserves to pay for the reopening of a vital bridge between two communities.
Park Bridge which links Drumoak and Durris across the River Dee, has been shut to traffic since February 2019, when a routine inspection found major structural issues.
The A-listed bridge, built in 1854, has been only open to pedestrians and cyclists ever since, forcing drivers to take a lengthy diversion if they want to travel between the two areas.
Many locals have campaigned for it to be reinstated, and last year more than 350 people signed a petition asking for vehicles of up to three tones to be allowed to use it – an option which Aberdeenshire Council said would cost £1.52m.
And now, almost two years since it was closed to motorists, the SNP candidate for the Aberdeenshire West seat in Holyrood, Fergus Mutch, has urged the Conservative-led Aberdeenshire Council to pay for repairs.
He said: “They’ve pleaded poverty, while sitting on £45m reserves for projects just like this one.
“This saga has gone on for too long, and each day the bridge remains closed to traffic people in Durris and Drumoak are being badly let down.
“No more excuses, no more passing the buck. The council has the money, and 2021 must be the year they finally put their hand in their pocket to reopen this vital link between communities either side of the Dee.
“Get on with it.”
But Andy Kille, the Conservative leader of Aberdeenshire Council, argued that Mr Mutch should consider the resources of the council in the context of the pandemic.
Mr Kille also pointed to an incident in Westminster last year when Kilmarnock and Loudon SNP MP Alan Brown drew criticism from the Tories, after Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Tory MP Andrew Bowie called on the Scottish Government to release funds to repair Park Bridge during a debate on the UK Internal Market Bill.
Mr Bowie had argued the bill would enable the UK Government to spend cash on strategic investments, such as the bridge’s repair, but Mr Brown responded by saying the bill “allows Tory MPs to try and lobby for wee pet projects to get funded from Westminster”.
Mr Kille said: “I note Fergus Mutch’s comments and that at the height of a pandemic, he would prefer we used reserves on a bridge rather than our response to Covid-19.”
He added: “A vast majority of those reserves are earmarked already. The small amount that isn’t is being used to carry us through the Covid-19 budgetary gap.
“Aberdeenshire’s bridge maintenance backlog exceeds £100m due to the many years of underfunding from the Scottish Government.
“Mr Mutch might not be familiar with the area but has definitely not been paying attention here.
“The SNP recently referred to this bridge as a ‘wee pet project’ in the House of Commons.
“I would be delighted if they have genuinely taken an interest in this issue – anything to help get the Scottish government to stump up a fair share of infrastructure funding for the north-east.”