A crucial section of the long-awaited £745million Aberdeen bypass could be delayed by as much as a year.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown has admitted the Balmedie-Tipperty stretch of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) is now unlikely to be finished until winter 2017/18.
It had been due to be finished by the spring, but “key earthworks” have not been completed in time.
The delay means more misery for commuters, as the 50mph limit currently on that stretch of the A90 – backed up by average speed cameras – will remain in place for the duration of the works.
In a letter to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Mr Brown said the contractor told him early last month that they had failed to complete “key earthworks” before winter.
He warned of environmental risks if the works were to be carried out during the festive period, citing “the control of run-off from the site and issues surrounding the protection of weather susceptible materials”.
Mr Brown, who will be grilled by MSPs on the delay tomorrow, said officials have “challenged” contractor Aberdeen Roads Limited “to mitigate the effects (of the delay) where possible”.
But North East Tory MSP Peter Chapman said the delay “called into question” ministers’ handling of the project.
He said: “The AWPR is a flagship infrastructure project for this SNP government, and I will be asking the minister why this section has fallen so far behind schedule.
“We are fully aware of the benefits that this development will bring to the north-east, but the SNP made great play of the fact that this part of the route would open early.”
Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald now plans to table questions at the Scottish Parliament about the delay.
He said: “This will mean – most likely – another year of disruption along the route.
“The question is what does this mean for the rest of the AWPR, if this relatively straight forward stretch of road is going to take a year longer. It is very serious.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles added: “They can’t deliver the new Queensferry crossing on time, it’s going to take to 2021 for them to start work on the Laurencekirk junction and now we learn they can’t build the bypass on time either.
“This is a ridiculous display of incompetence from the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “(Aberdeen Roads Limited) has not completed seasonally dependant earthworks on the Balmedie-Tipperty section of the project in advance of this winter period. They will recommence these key earthworks after the winter period, which has a consequential impact on the planned opening date for the Balmedie to Tipperty section.
“The contractor has revised the Balmedie to Tipperty section date to open in line with the rest of the AWPR/B-T project.
“Sections of the scheme are already opened to traffic, for example at Aberdeen Airport – ahead of the contractor’s’ scheduled completion date – bringing benefits to the local area.”