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Highland Council claims new roads investment will offer improvements but the figures don’t stack-up and ‘deterioration of the overall network will occur’

By Scott Maclennan

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Caithness potholes.
Caithness potholes.

Highland Council has claimed that its £2.1 billion two decade investment plan will provide significant investment to roads – but the figures do not add up with the network expected to deteriorate further.

Currently the council and administration are welcoming what they call additional investment in roads but the fact remains that it falls far behind the minimum required to prevent further deterioration.

The council said that additional capital funding will top up existing investment with £50 million more as part of the 2024 budget setting process. That means £63.4m will be spent on roads and infrastructure improvements over the next three years.

But the base amount allocated in the capital budget is just £7.8 million so the extra cash from the investment plan is improving that low figure with what appears to be the bare minimum.

So the total being spent annually varies between £20.7 million and £21.55 million.

Roads Investment provided by Highland Council over the next three years.
Roads Investment provided by Highland Council over the next three years.

That is important because the key question is whether that sum meets the so-called ‘steady state’ – keeping the roads no worse but no better than they are now – level of investment.

It does not because the steady state stands, at the most recent estimate from back in 2019, at just over £25 million and even the council recognises this as almost every report on roads investment for several years has come with the following phrase:

“The level of investment across Highland falls short of the budget requirements to maintain a steady state condition of the road network. Deterioration of the overall network will occur with a corresponding risk to the travelling public. An increase in damage claims can also be expected, as the road defects develop.”

Then from 2027 increases in funding through the Highland Investment Plan should see a further £287 million allocated to sustain roads and transport infrastructure over 20 years – that is the equivalent of £14.35 million a year.

An £8.7 million strategic allocation from the 2024-25 budget, will be targeted at a further list of road surface treatment schemes, utilising engineering judgement and local knowledge to determine which projects were to be included.

The project list has been compiled in conjunction with each road operations manager and technical staff, to identify those which they could undertake in 2024/25.

Leader of the council Raymond Bremner said: “The planned investment will help to address the on-going challenges we face in maintaining over 4000 miles of Highland roads and sustaining rural communities.

“A long-term investment programme for roads and transportation will ensure a sustainable approach to investment, contractor procurement, and opportunities to attract match funding from developer contributions or other external funding sources. There will also be significant local contracting and business opportunities and wider community economic benefit associated with the delivery of the Investment Plan.”

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