Isolated villagers say they have faced delays waiting for ambulances due to being surrounded by collapsed bridges which make navigating the area increasingly difficult.
It has been claimed that on at least five occasions, ambulance drivers have become lost trying to find their way around road closures en route to emergency call-outs near King Edward, following the collapse of seven bridges on surrounding roads in September 2019.
And with only one of those repaired and another in line for reopening, there’s fears lives could be lost due to the crumbling structures blocking easy access to rural homes near King Edward, which lies just off the A947 between Turriff and Banff.
Villager Caroline Close, a long-standing campaigner for the bridges’ reinstatement, has warned she and many others “dread” the next time an emergency vehicle struggles to reach a call-out.
“King Edward’s productivity, social life, community, prosperity and resilience are all built on those bridges,” she said.
“To my knowledge there’s been five instances of ambulances becoming lost, and councillors should understand how we dread another doing so. One bridge will help but it will not eliminate this issue.”
The local authority is responsible for more than 1,300 crossings in the region and dozens are in need of patching up in the coming years. The repair bill for those at King Edward is estimated at £1.27 million.
And as members of Formartine Area Committee debated a framework for how to prioritise those works, Ms Close outlined the fears and desperation of King Edward residents.
She said: “It is hard to convey the sense of frustration felt in the district, the feeling of isolation and the general conviction that our council tax pound is somehow worth less than others areas.
“The disbelief, not only that the backlog in maintenance has become so critical, but that King Edward, at the end of all this, may be left to fend for itself.”
Severe flooding caused seven structures in the King Edward area to collapse in September 2019, and though Aberdeenshire Council rebuilt the bridge on the B9105 at South Mains, the six others remain out of action.
In the 18 months since, the ongoing closure of those at Bridge of Gorrachie, Bridge of Fortrie, Bruntyards, Millcroft, Mill of Balmaud and North Litterty have caused long detours.
Asking for directions
Banff and Buchan MP, David Duguid, has received reports of reduced response times to medical emergencies, too, and backed calls for King Edward’s bridges to be given priority repairs.
He said: “I have heard anecdotally from constituents of the issues with ambulances and other emergency services.
“I’m told on one occasion, an ambulance even had to ask for directions. Ambulance response times are already known to be an issue in Turriff and the surrounding area.
“Part of the problem is that numerous detours from any one of the washed out bridges would involve crossing one of the other destroyed bridges.”
The local authority has committed to rebuilding one of the bridges, but is facing estimated bridge repair costs of £102m over the next 20 years.
Even if this figure is broken down annually, the £5.1m which would be required every year is more than twice the council’s current bridge budget.
One repair on the way
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “Although we have not been directly approached by the Scottish Ambulance Service over any delays we do appreciate that due to the current situation, access to properties does require detailed route planning.
“We are aware that the period of heavy snow in February compounded the current situation and that may have caused additional difficulties for our colleagues in SAS.
“We can confirm that we remain on schedule to construct a £100,000 replacement bridge at Fortrie by the end of this summer which will provide another direct route from the A98 to the A947.
“Having taken into account the views of the community through the engagement exercise held early last year, Bridge of Fortrie was selected as the first to be replaced as it provides the best fit to maximise connectivity from a local traffic perspective.”
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokeswoman, however, added: “We are aware of bridge closures in the area, but we have no record of an ambulance being delayed as a result.”