Highland Council passes capital budget with some schools left out in the cold

Highland Council is preparing a special case for extra capital funding to repair damaged roads as drifting snow continued to close routes in parts of the north yesterday,

The local authority said £1.7billion was needed to bring roads up to standard across the region with the condition of some routes worsening after months of severe weather.

Figures issued by the council showed that, 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.

Yesterday, the A836 Lairg to Tongue road was closed by up to 3-4ft of drifting snow on parts of the route. Other Caithness routes had up to 4ins of lying snow.

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.

“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.”

The call came at the same time as Highland Council agreed a capital spending programme close to half a billion pounds over the next five years yesterday.

The money will be used to invest in schools, roads, bridges, harbours and flood prevention schemes across the region.

However, councillors at the meeting yesterday were disappointed to find that the upgrade of some schools had been left out of the local authority’s plans in the Budget report.

The report noted that conditions at 42% of Highland schools were rated as “poor” compared to 16% of other school buildings in Scotland.

Independent Skye councillor John Finlayson said he would be pinning his hopes on extra funding from the Scotland’s Schools for the Future investment programme, adding: “Broadford needs a new school. Parents have voiced their concerns about health and safety. I don’t think the community will accept something not happening now.”

SNP councillor Graham Mackenzie raised the issue of St Clements special school in Dingwall which was closed yesterday due to leaks in the roof.

He said his ward had been “let down by this capital plan” with a long-awaited link road through one part of the town now abandoned.

Highland Council Budget leader Alister MacKinnon said the authority would be seeking more funding from the Scottish Government.

He said: “We intend to push hard for more capital funding for our schools and infrastructure and we will ensure that we deliver the very best value for what we spend.

“We are determined to ensure that the Highlands has the investment it needs and deserves and that we are not disadvantaged by our geography.”

However, the Scottish Government insisted that the local authority had been treated “very fairly”.

A spokesman 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.”