Published: 13/03/2018 17:21 - Updated: 13/03/2018 17:28

Highland Council agrees £500m works programme but more money needed

Written byEmma Crichton

 

Capital programme has been agreed by council
Capital programme has been agreed by council

Investment of almost £500 million over the next five years has been agreed by Highland Council but a bid for more money from the Scottish Government is to be made.

Repairs to schools and roads were prioritised in the capital plan but many projects were missing from the list after councillors were forced to slash their budget as rising charges to pay back loans became unaffordable.

At a four-hour special meeting, councillors were warned that more money is needed and that it would cost £177 million to make all necessary repairs and upgrades to roads, while 42 per cent of all 203 schools in the Highlands are deemed to be in poor condition.

This led councillors to unanimously agree to lobby MSPs and MPs for more money, as well as looking alternative, more cost-effective methods of building proposed by the SNP.

A Conservative motion for all parties to look at ways of saving money and what that should be spent on was also agreed.

Budget leader Alister Mackinnon said: "The challenges the council face do not need to be repeated.

"We have been taken aback at the state of some of the schools we have seen due to a lack of maintenance over many decades.

"We will do everything possible to secure additional funding to tend to the dreadful state of our roads and schools.

"We cannot please everyone, there is not enough money to go around, but our priorities are based on need and capacity."

Council Margaret Davidson blamed the Scottish Government for the lack of funding, saying: "This programme delivers significant investment in a range of key projects across the Highlands.

" We are investing in schools, roads, bridges, harbours and flood prevention schemes that will benefit our communities over the coming years.

"We recognise the need to invest in our infrastructure and we want to do more.

"Our capital programme has been significantly reduced due to the financial constraints imposed on us by the Scottish Government but we intend to campaign hard for more capital funding for the Highlands and I am today calling on all our councillors, MSPs and MPs to publicly support us."

But opposition councillors hit out at relying on a £50 million grant through the Scottish Governments Schools for the Future fund for a number of new schools, saying they are misleading parents by suggesting that the council will be given such a high amount.

Opposition leader Maxine Smith said: "This is a generic line which doesn’t really say or mean anything.

"We are really disappointed because lots of the key projects promised to us and our communities are missing.

"I am being contacted by so many people asking what has happened to their schools. They have been promised something and it is not there."

She was backed up by fellow SNP councillor Ian Cockburn, who represents Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, who said: "We all know it’s hard but the £50 million pot is just kicking it into the long grass.

"These schools should be considered on merit but at least we would have a discussion on it. Don’t kid on to everybody that their schools are all going to be done.

"There are about £300 million worth of schools and we don’t even know if we are going to get £50 million.

"This is smoke and mirrors, be honest with people."

The biggest specific spend agreed in the strath in the capital programme from 2018/19 to 2022/23 is for landfill restoration.

It will ensure that Granish landfill site by Aviemore complies with current and future environmental legislation, and continues to provide strategically essential waste management facilities.

The cost is £3.27 million but this includes similar plans for the Seater site in Caithness.

There are also proposals to provide waste transfer stations at Aviemore and Lochaber, and to provide new recycling infrastructure such as bottle banks and skips (£3 million).

The River Gynack Flood Protection Scheme by Kingussie is also included at a cost of £590,000 with a study to start this coming financial year.

This work will allow a grant bid to be submitted to fund the detailed design and construction stage.

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