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Highland Council tries again to secure £44m from UK government’s Levelling Up Fund for North Coast 500 (NC500) improvements

By Gregor White

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The Kylesku Bridge would be in a line for a makeover if the council's bid is successful this time round.
The Kylesku Bridge would be in a line for a makeover if the council's bid is successful this time round.

The council previously lost out on investment to fund road improvements along the west coast of the NC500.

However, it has taken feedback on board and gone in with a second bid to the UK government's Levelling Up fund.

So what does Highland Council hope to deliver?

The £44m project aims to improve road safety and visitor experience along the west side of the route – concentrating on Achnasheen to Kishorn and Ullapool to Bettyhill.

It’s also seeking investment in EV charging points, active travel and public transport across the NC500.

If its NC500 investment bid is successful, the council will spend a whopping £22.5m on road design improvements between Achnasheen and Kishorn.

The biggest investment is £12.6m on the Balnacara to Lair rail bridge, and the council also wants to spend £5.5m improving the Culag Bridge at Balnacra.

A further £4.4m is earmarked for the A896 Kishorn to Lochcarron.

In addition to improving the roads, Highland Council wants to create a passing place strategy to deal with increased traffic on single track country roads. This will cost just over £1m and will include cycle infrastructure.

Locals have long complained about high traffic and speeding on the popular NC500 route. Highland Council has included a budget for intelligent traffic monitoring.

Finally, it’s planning a £50,000 investment in new signs for NC500 villages.

Famed as the most north-westerly point of Britain, Cape Wrath has an unspoilt beauty that draws in visitors.

However, like other parts of the Highlands, the infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

Highland Council has bid for nearly £2.3m to recycle and reconstruct the Cape Wrath road. It hopes to spend a further £4.1m on the A836 from Naver Bridge to the B871 junction.

The stunning Kylesku Bridge is also in line for a makeover, with £1.6m identified for waterproofing works. Nearby Borgie Bridge will get £500,000 for concrete repairs.

Again, Highland Council has made plans for passing place improvements, traffic sensors and new signage.

During the pandemic, green tourism came into the spotlight as locals reacted angrily to littering, toileting and antisocial behaviour at Highland beauty spots. It prompted the council to hire a team of countryside rangers and invest in bins, parking and advertising.

The third strand of Highland Council’s NC500 investment bid also focuses on environmentally-responsible approaches to tourism.

There’s £3m earmarked for electric vehicle charging points across the network, including new EV facilities in Scrabster and Dunbeath, Caithness.

Walking, cycling and wheeling will be promoted through a £3.2m investment in active travel projects in Caithness, Sutherland, Easter Ross and Inverness-shire.

And the region’s decrepit bus facilities will be improved with £625,000 on new bus shelters and £307,000 on various community transport projects.

Members officially agreed the latest bid at their final meeting before recess, in June.

The council also agreed to make a second heritage and culture bid to regenerate Portree harbour and village.

Economy chairman Ken Gowans said the NC500 investment could be “transformational” for Highland communities.

“We are confident that they demonstrate community partnership, place making and significant economic and infrastructure improvements to both the North Coast 500 and Isle of Skye communities,” he said.

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