Highland Council is poised to switch more than £24million of funding from swings to roundabouts under new plans to fix the north’s crumbling roads.
Cash earmarked for play parks, public toilets and flood prevention schemes would be raided to fund a major resurfacing programme on roads across the region.
Under the plans – which will go before councillors next week – funding for the local authority’s flagship environmental programme “Carbon Clever” will also be halved from £8million to £4million.
Last night, opposition councillors said they were “not happy” about the move – claiming it had “not been thought through”.
But motoring organisations hailed the roads investment as “good news”.
The changes – which emerged the day after Inverness councillors agreed to slash gritting provision for city roads this winter – are proposed for the council’s capital budget over the next eight years.
They follow the collapse of the previous SNP-Lib Dem-Labour administration earlier this year, with a new Independent group taking charge at the council.
Current council leader Margaret Davidson pledged to improve the state of the roads when she was appointed.
The Independent administration’s budget leader Councillor Bill Fernie admitted that the investment would not solve all of the north’s road problems – but insisted the money was needed to avert bigger issues in the future.
However, the cuts could include a saving of £1million on play parks, with just £400,000 to be invested over the next four years.
In a report to councillors, finance director Derek Yule admitted that the move would “severely limit” new projects.
Instead, any new play park schemes would have to be funded through developer contributions and grants.
Mrs Davidson said the suggested savings were “open to discussion” when they go before the authority on Thursday.
But leader of the SNP opposition Councillor Maxine Smith, a former budget leader of the council, criticised the proposals last night.
She said: “I’m not happy with a great deal of it.
“I support the fact that the roads need improvement but I don’t think you can go through everything in the capital programme which is flexible and take the money from there into the roads.
“This needs a proper thorough look and I’m not content that’s been done. It’s not been thought through at all.”
Ms Smith said the cuts to flood alleviation schemes and coastal protection measures were two particular areas of concern for her.
The Press and Journal revealed earlier this week that the council was seeking £11million in Scottish Government grants to fund the completion of 10 flood defence schemes across the north.
Under the new plans, the coastal protection budget would also be cut from £100,000 each year, giving a total saving of £800,000 by 2024.
The money would be used for new infrastructure investment that would be divided up, with £20.5million over the eight years going to resurfacing, £2,6million to bridges and £1.4million being spent on piers.
A report put before councillors earlier this year revealed that more than a third of Highland roads were deemed substandard, with the cost of bringing them fully up to scratch put at £156million.
It was estimated in February when the figures were revealed that it would cost £16.25million a year just to keep them in their current state.
RAC spokesman Simon Williams said the condition of local roads was the biggest concern to Scottish motorists in a recent survey by the organisation.
He added: “The fact Highland Council is looking to invest substantially in its roads for the future will therefore be good news to all those who use them and have witnessed first-hand their decline.
“Hopefully creating a fit-for-purpose road network will benefit the local economy in the long term and limit the amount of damage to motorists’ vehicles caused by driving through potholes.”