Sir Ian Wood has revealed his frustration at the “hell of a long time” it is taking to move forward with the City Region Deal – as it emerged £14.5million of the pot went unspent last year.
The former oil industry boss spoke out at the City Region Deal committee meeting yesterday, where members were given an update on a number of key infrastructure projects pledged at the signing of the deal 18 months ago.
In November 2016, Aberdeenshire Council, Aberdeen City Council and Opportunity North East agreed a City Region Deal with the UK and Scottish Governments which is estimated to be worth £826million over 10 years.
Among the projects promised is £200million to improve rail links between the north-east and central belt.
But there is yet to be any detail about what the work will entail, or when it will be carried out.
Transport Scotland told the committee that it was planned the improvements would be delivered within a 10-year timescale.
But Sir Ian – who helped deliver the deal, and attends the meetings as chairman of ONE – said it was a “hell of a long time” to wait and raised concerns that in the meantime, current roads would not be fit for the massive harbour expansion for cruise ships.
He said: “I have no idea what the timescales are or what even the substance of the improvements are.
“It alarms me that stage two (of the harbour roads upgrade) could take five years. Are we confident the road will be able to take 100 buses a day?”
But Aberdeenshire Council’s deputy leader, and chairman of the planning committee, insisted a recent meeting with Transport Minister Humza Yousaf had been “productive” and they were awaiting the outcome of a new report.
City council co-leader Jenny Laing said: “Sir Ian is absolutely right that we can’t let these projects slip pace.”
She was echoed by North East Conservative MSP Liam Kerr.
He said: “Sir Ian Wood was instrumental in delivering the first and biggest element of the City Region Deal so far, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre.
“That facility is not only up and running, but is proving successful in helping the industry make the most of remaining reserves in the North Sea.
“If Sir Ian is critical of the pace of delivery in other areas, then the government should sit up and take notice.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman insisted last night that progress on the rail project was being made – but pointed to the various studies that must be carried out.
He said: “We remain committed to delivering an additional £200million of improvements on this route as soon as possible. There is no question that everyone wants a solution to the capacity constraints and we are working with all relevant parties to identify the best solutions which will deliver the greatest benefits.
“Our level of investment clearly demonstrates our commitment to improving rail infrastructure and underlines our determination to improve connectivity between Aberdeen and the Central Belt. We are, however, looking at 200 miles of railway to analyse details of track data, track geometry and line speeds, before moving forward with a multi-disciplinary review of the entire route – a significant challenge that will take time to fully consider.”
A report was presented to the committee that showed that of nearly £17.5million of the City Region Deal pot allocated to be spent on the north-east this year about £14.5million is unspent.
The funds come from UK and Scottish governments as well as Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils and the private sector.
A massive £8.5million to improve digital connectivity in the north-east wasn’t spent which the report says was due to “slippage as a result of a number of factors” including the delay of a national infrastructure scheme and the loss of a key member of staff.
The committee were informed that the money could be carried over to this year.
The figures add up
The total underspend this year was £14,506,039, which was destined for infrastructure improvements across the region.
Of the sum, around £8.5million was to improve digital connections- due to the loss of a “digital lead” for a project as well as “slippage” in national schemes.
A total of £4million was for the “bio-therapeutic hub” to improve the region’s growing life science industry – but “caused by slippage primarily as a result of a protracted business case approval phase involving the two governments which has severely impacted the original plan” according to a report presented yesterday.
More than £1.2million was destined to be spent on a major report on the road links in the region. This is now being funded through other sources.