Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has claimed that the consortium building Aberdeen’s delay-hit bypass is now holding north-east taxpayers to “ransom”.
The SNP minister ratcheted up the pressure on Aberdeen Roads Ltd (ARL) amid mounting frustration at its failure to agree to open the completed 19.6-mile section of the road from Craibstone to Stonehaven.
The key stretch is completed and could be opened today if the group – comprised of Galliford Try and Balfour Beatty – agreed to a proposed change in the terms of its contract for the £745 million scheme.
Currently, ARL has to deliver all of the remaining parts of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) at the same time.
However, “defects” mean a new bridge over the River Don is not ready and therefore the whole road cannot open.
Mr Matheson wants ARL to agree to open the rest of the road before the bridge is ready.
But he claimed yesterday that the consortium was holding up the process by attempting to link the proposed contract change to an “entirely separate” legal action ARL is pursuing against the Scottish Government to recover extra costs related to the AWPR.
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In an update at Holyrood, he said: “I am not prepared to allow us to be put in a position where quite literally contractors are seeking to try and hold taxpayers to ransom over this matter.”
He added: “While this dialogue continues to be constructive, I am acutely aware that it can not go on forever.
“I continue to be concerned that entirely separate commercial claims that the contractor has indicated it wishes to pursue relating to other aspects of the project appear to be getting linked to this process.”
ARL is contractually unable to make public statements on the scheme and did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
However, MSPs hope that the bosses may break their silence after being called to give evidence to Holyrood’s connectivity committee next month.
Mr Matheson added that the work to repair the Don crossing, and finally open the entire road, was still due to be completed next month, although that target continued to be weather-dependent.
Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Liam Kerr said: “It seems the entire AWPR is being held up by contract negotiations which are in the gift of the SNP to resolve.”
He added: “If this section isn’t open by Christmas there will be a harsh winter ahead for the SNP in the north-east.”