THE roads network in Sutherland and elsewhere in the north Highlands is so full of potholes that some routes are on the brink of becoming impassable, according to a local business couple.
Ric Marr (61) and Sue Capper (56) of Forsinard are frustrated at having to watch out for deep ruts in the road for fear of damaging their vehicles.
Ms Capper has launched a petition urging that action be taken as a matter of urgency to repair the “vital highway system” and fund its maintenance.
The couple blamed the deterioration in the road surfaces on cuts to Highland Council’s roads maintenance budget combined with increasing traffic from the North Coast 500 tourism route and the use of rural roads by heavy timber extraction lorries and heavy goods vehicles carrying aggregate.
Mr Marr and Ms Capper, who run poster and leaflet distribution business Cause and Effect Publicity, relocated from Sussex to Sutherland in 2010 in search of a better quality of life. The couple regularly drive on the A897 Helmsdale to Melvich road – a 39.4 mile stretch of mainly single-track road passing through Kildonan, Kinbrace, Forsinard and Achiemore.
They are also keen on days out in the north Highlands, often driving to Ullapool and returning via Lairg – although they now find traffic on the route is “prohibitive”.
Mr Marr, a keen motorist and motor biker, said the state of the A897 and many other north Highland roads was the worst he had seen and presented a risk to motorists.
He said: “The Helmsdale to Melvich road is getting narrower and narrower as it gets eaten away at the edges by lorries and that is where major potholes are occurring.
“You now almost need an off-road car to drive on the road. We have got three cars but I am reluctant to take two of them out because they are low slung.
“We have had no damage to our vehicles yet but I am really careful when it comes to avoiding potholes. If something is not done about the roads in the next year or two, the situation will be irretrievably bad.”
The couple rang Highland Council in the hope of talking with an official about their fears. They were told someone would ring them back but said that had not happened by time of going to press.
They also contacted the NC500 tourism initiative but a representative there advised them to speak to the local authority.
They were delighted at the response to the petition, which can be accessed online at change.org (type into the website’s search bar: ‘repair and maintain the roads of northern Highland’).
It has more than 2400 signatories and the couple hope it will reach the 5000 mark.
A report on local authority finances revealed that councils across Scotland had cut roads maintenance funding by 20 per cent over the past seven years in response to budget pressures.
However, ahead of a budget meeting on Thursday, Cllr Allan Henderson, chair of the environment, development and infrastructure committee, said the authority would protect spending on roads.
He said: “We have nearly 7,000 kilometres of roads in the Highlands and this network is vital to our rural communities and lifeline services.
“This is why the budget we are proposing protects spending on roads and will allow us to drive forward continued improvement to the network.
Cllr Henderson said it had been a challenging winter due to ice and snow, which had meant roads teams could only undertake temporary pothole repairs using cold tar.
He said: “They will continue undertaking as many of these as they can while also carry out winter gritting duties. However, our programme of planned pothole repairs and other road maintenance works will start in March when the weather improves. I urge motorists to report potholes using the potholes form on the council websitehighland.gov.uk/report so we can prioritise the most urgent repairs.”