A pledge to cut rail journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt is under review, the SNP transport chief revealed today.
The government had promised in 2016 to reduce journey times for north-east rail passengers heading towards Glasgow and Edinburgh by around 20 minutes.
The £200 million commitment formed part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal and transport chiefs earmarked 2026 for completion of the overall project.
But on Tuesday morning, Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan admitted the project is being reviewed in light of budget pressures, sparking fears of delays.
The latest set-back comes one year since we revealed the project had received only £6.5m of the promised £200m fund – just over 3% of the budget.
Soaring capital costs with rising inflation were blamed but the government repeated its commitment to finishing the scheme on time.
New figures released on Tuesday show that total has increased to £8.7m over the last 12 months, but is still a fraction of the overall committed.
Ms McAllan told MSPs the government is “utterly committed” to the project but is “constrained” by cuts of almost 10% in its capital budget over the next five years.
Asked about how the government can be committed to the project if it is now under review, Ms McAllan said: “It’s not the case that you’re committed to it and it happens or you’re not committed to it.
“When budgets are constrained, it’s only right that you consider the time over which projects can be completed.”
Ryan Crighton, policy director at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said the longer the government delays, the “more businesses and the region’s economy will suffer”.
He added: “Our region will power Scotland’s energy transition and much of its economic growth in the years ahead. That job is made so much harder if we’ve got poor transport options for business passengers, visitors and freight.
“The Scottish Government should offer urgent clarity on their plans — and assure business here in Aberdeen and Grampian that this isn’t a roll back on previous promises made to our region.”
Douglas Lumsden, Conservative MSP for the North East, said people will be alarmed by the potential hold-up.
“The SNP have had years to deliver this project but are incapable of even hitting a self-imposed deadline,” he said.
“We’ve heard about this money from successive governments during repeated election campaigns, and nothing has transpired.”
The MSP formerly sat on the city region deal panel as Aberdeen City Council co-leader.
How the city deal promised improvements
The Aberdeen City Region Deal saw the north-east of Scotland allocated £504m of funding in 2016 to improve infrastructure and attract jobs.
The terms commit both the UK Government and Scottish Government to jointly invest up to £250m.
Separately, the Scottish Government promised £254m for key infrastructure projects in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
This included £200m for the promised rail improvements.