Call for cash for extra roads as weather cripples Highland network

Council Leader, Councillor Margaret Davidson

Highland Council yesterday called for extra government funding to repair roads damaged by wintry weather as drifting snow continued to close routes in parts of the north yesterday.

The local authority said more money was needed to fix damage caused to the roads following months of severe weather.

The council estimates that it would need £1.7billion of capital investment over the next 10 years in order to maintain its road network and keep the routes throughout the region in good condition.

Council Leader Margaret Davidson warned that other services could suffer if more money was not provided for roads.

She said: “Our capital programme has been reduced by 50% and we have to balance competing demands for the limited resources available. It is simply not possible to fund all the things we would like to do. Our proposals seek to do the best we can within our means for the needs of communities right across the Highlands.”

The call came as Highland councillors agreed to also campaign for more money for schools and other services after approving their five-year spending plan at a budget meeting yesterday.

In total 57 Met Office warnings were issued between October last year and this week for the authority area. Warnings were in place for 47 days in the last three-month winter period.

Councillor Allan Henderson, chairman of Highland Council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee, said: “We have had a long hard winter which has taken its toll on our road infrastructure. Yesterday was the eighth consecutive day of a Met Office Warning and our teams have been hard at work gritting, clearing snow and keeping our roads open.

“After dealing with the winter work, our focus will be turning to fixing the worst of the potholes. Freeze-thaw-freeze conditions throughout the winter have done considerable damage. This is on top of a 10% decrease in road conditions over the last five years.

“Whilst we have identified funds in our capital programme for roads, this will hardly scratch the surface of the hundreds of millions needed to bring our roads up to a better condition.

“We will be making a case to the Scottish Government to provide additional capital funding so that we can really make a difference.”

Councillor Davidson, who stressed this coming financial years’s capital budget had been reduced from £110m to £56m, added: “We will be undertaking a major lobbying campaign to bring in additional Scottish Government capital funding and calling on our regional politicians to actively support this case, as well as colleagues across the chamber, to make sure Highland gets the investment it needs and deserves.”

Deputy Leader Alasdair Christie added: “We have over 200 schools and remote communities dependent on thousands of miles of lifeline routes.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has treated local government very fairly despite the cuts to the Scottish Budget from the UK Government. Highland Council received its fair share of the Local Government Finance settlement for 2017-18. Taken together with other support for local authority services, Highland Council have an extra £20.3 million to support services in 2017-18 which equates to an additional 4.3% on 2016-17.

“It is for councils to allocate the total resources available to them based on local priorities.”