Frustrated north-east councils will appeal directly to Westminster for cash to improve roads and rail, after SNP ministers in Holyrood snubbed the initiative.
Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council have revealed they will both take part in Boris Johnson’s union connectivity review, despite opposition from Nicola Sturgeon’s government.
The review, led by Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy, promises to deliver faster road and rail links and create new transport links across the UK.
Mr Johnson, announcing the review in October, said the scheme would help Britain “build back better from the pandemic” and would result in a “levelling up” of opportunity across the nation.
Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has so far refused to engage, however, telling MSPs “it is nothing more than a blatant power grab” as transport infrastructure is devolved.
“The process for deciding (transport priorities) is for this Parliament, not for the UK Government,” Mr Matheson said last month.
Leaders in the north-east have now taken matters into their own hands and will engage directly with Sir Peter.
Call to ensure ‘Scotland is not left behind’
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said: “Given the slow progress with the £200m additional grant from the Scottish Government in respect of rail improvements, it is imperative that the council responds positively to this consultation to ensure Aberdeen and the north east region’s needs are taken into account when further connectivity investment is being considered.”
She added: “I would also encourage the devolved Scottish Government to respond to the consultation to ensure Scotland is not left behind when it comes to links between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
It’s bewildering the Scottish Government won’t take part in a project intended to level up all four nations.”
Andrew Bowie MP
Aberdeenshire Council leader Andy Kille said: “Any potential avenue for extra help has got to be welcomed by any council, especially when it comes to helping road, rail and air connectivity.
“It is well known that Aberdeenshire has to manage more than 10% of Scotland’s trunk roads but is one of the lowest-funded councils by the SNP government, with a bridge repair backlog that they won’t help fund.
“That unfairness must be addressed and I look forward to hearing more about Sir Peter’s review soon.”
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie welcomed the move by the two councils and branded the Scottish Government’s decision not to take part “bewildering”.
He said: “It’s bewildering the Scottish Government won’t take part in a project intended to level up all four nations.
“If that continues, it’s absolutely right individual councils speak up for themselves about their needs.
“I obviously want my constituency and the wider north east to have its say.”
Review a ‘power grab’
The review is inviting submissions from industry, academics, local authorities engineering experts and the general public until December 30.
A spokesman for Mr Matheson reiterated the Scottish Government’s view that Sir Peter’s review is a “power grab”, adding: “It was set up without any prior consultation and its remit and chairman were decided by the UK Government without any engagement with the devolved nations – and will make recommendations in areas that are the sole responsibility of the Scottish Parliament directly for decision to UK Tory ministers.”
The Scottish Government has committed £125m over 10 years as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal to improve a number of areas, including transport.”
Spokesman for Transport Secretary Michael Matheson
The spokesman also defended the SNP’s record on transport infrastructure, stating: “The north-east has benefited from substantial rail enhancements including re-doubling of the line between Aberdeen and Inverurie, half-hourly services between Inverurie and Aberdeen, with alternate services continuing to Montrose via all stops to provide a “cross-rail” service.
“Refurbished high speed trains now operate many services from Aberdeen to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness and have committed £200m towards enhancing the rail network.
“The Scottish Government has committed £125m over 10 years as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal to improve a number of areas, including transport.”