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Solution to Berriedale problems a top priority, says Chamber

Caithness Chamber of Commerce and Caithness Transport Forum have long been concerned about the economic impact of the Berriedale Braes on the region and are now calling on the Scottish Government to commit to funding a solution this year.

“For too long, the Scottish Government has ignored the impact the Berriedale Braes has on those living and working in the North of Scotland and Orkney Isles,” said Chamber chief executive Trudy Morris, who also chairs the Transport Forum.

“Businesses and local residents alike have long been aware that the Berriedale Braes is a serious issue for the area. The north hairpin has been the site of a number of accidents over the years, and it is fortunate that these have not been more serious. In addition, accidents and breakdowns on this section of the road – an all too common occurrence – result in serious disruptions to businesses and residents alike, as it is the only viable route north.

“In July 2012 monies were provided by Transport Scotland (£100k), the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (£100k), Highland Council (£10k) and HITRANS (£10k) to fund a study to find a solution to the hairpin.

“While progress has been made in identifying a solution to this important issue, we are disappointed that the Scottish Government is dragging its heels in moving towards a practical implementation of this. The project as it stands is effectively shovel-ready – all that remains is for Scottish Government to commit the funding.  We are now concerned this project will just sit on the shelf at a cost of £220k to the taxpayer.

“We have been told that a firm commitment cannot be given that construction of Berriedale will be included in the next programme of works in 2016, because this will depend on the budget that is made available from Westminster and other competing infrastructure priorities – a position we find hard to reconcile with recent revelations of a significant underspend in the infrastructure budget for 2014-15.

“Given that Highland Council have recently noted that they are looking positively at the possibility of part-funding the work through the Inverness City-Region deal, this should surely further reduce the potential impact on the infrastructure budget and make a stronger case for progressing work as soon as possible.

“Budgets and how they are allocated and prioritised by central government are likely to be key issues for voters in this area in the run-up to next year’s elections, and it’s a shame that we continue to see vast amounts of money spent on large infrastructure projects in the Central Belt while small projects meeting the needs of businesses and residents in the Far North are ignored.

“We now are urging the Scottish Government to commit to a funding package for the Berriedale Braes in advance of the Autumn 2015 Spending Review as this issue has gone unaddressed for too long.”

Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce said: “There is no better example of the fragility of Scotland’s rural road transport network than the Berriedale Braes section of the A9. Alongside our colleagues at Caithness Chamber we have long argued that this section of road requires immediate investment and the economic and societal impacts of frequent road closures and detours to communities in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney are obvious.

“To continue to grow its economy and attract visitors and investment, Scotland requires a transport infrastructure fit for the 21st century – the Berriedale Braes falls a long way short of this. Alongside the similarly fragile and urgently in need of investment A82, this area should be the top priority for the Scottish Government’s transport budget.

“Given the advanced position of the plans to upgrade, we echo the calls of our Caithness colleagues that the Scottish Government must allocate funds to the Berriedale Braes project now.”