Fears have been raised that “turmoil” in the corridors of Westminster is delaying ambitious regeneration plans in Moray.
An announcement was thought to be imminent about the region’s multi-million pound growth deal bid’s progress to the next phase.
But now the team leading the project has revealed that “resourcing challenges” in Westminster, due to ministerial shake-ups and Brexit, have pushed confirmation back to “by the end of the year”.
Last night the UK Government denied preparations to leave the EU had caused any hold-ups – instead stressing that “things are progressing well”.
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Moray’s Community Planning Board, which comprises representatives from the council, the NHS, emergency services, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other agencies, has, however, been told timescales may be affected.
Chairman Graham Leadbitter said: “Huge cross-governmental effort has gone into the growth deal to date and it’s frustrating that the turmoil in Westminster is overspilling into timescales.
“However, we are continuing to work with local partner agencies to work up further detail to minimise the impact of that delay.
“The growth deal is a series of milestones. The quicker we clear them, the quicker we can start having an impact on the ground.”
Both the UK and Scottish governments have already committed £32.5 million each to Moray’s growth deal funding pot.
The current phase of the process, known as “heads of terms”, involves securing funding pledges from the council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, other agencies and private firms to make up the final total.
Only when that hurdle has been cleared can business cases be drawn up for each project before it can be confirmed what proposals will be included.
Possible parts of the growth deal include a “cultural quarter” in Elgin featuring a renovated Elgin Town Hall and refurbished Grant Lodge, two new campuses for Moray College UHI and a gas pipeline to create extra capacity to help distilleries expand.
Local politicians also have differing views on the progress of the deal.
Moray Tory MP Douglas Ross said: “There has been no delay with the growth deal – indeed it was announced earlier than many anticipated.
“I continue to work with the Scottish Secretary and departments across Whitehall to highlight the importance of this deal for the area.
“That work continues apace and is no way influenced by Brexit as this report claims.”
But Moray SNP MSP Richard Lochhead said: “It is completely unacceptable that progress on the growth deal has stalled.
“This Conservative government’s sole priority appears to pursuing an extreme Brexit that threatens to push the economy over a cliff edge, while completely failing to get on with the job of running the country.”
A report produced for the Community Planning Board’s meeting next week has warned that “resourcing challenges” caused by recent changes at Westminster and Brexit is behind growth deal discussions being pushed back.
The UK Government has been made aware of the details of the report.
A spokesman said yesterday: “The Moray growth deal is not being delayed by preparations to leave the EU.
“Just nine weeks ago the UK Government confirmed it was investing £32.5 million to support economic growth in Moray, helping deliver projects that focus on employability and skills, manufacturing innovation, as well as vital improvements to digital connectivity and regeneration.
“We are working hard with local partners to develop the project proposals and things are progressing well.”