No short term solution to bridge closures
Aberdeenshire Council has pledged to continue to seek additional financial assistance to repair six rural bridges destroyed by flooding last year, with councillors agreeing that two at Gorrachie and Bruntyards should be the initial priority.
The local authority’s Infrastructure Services Committee (ISC) agreed on Thursday to enter into further dialogue with both the Scottish and UK governments to explore the potential for additional financial aid, particularly in the context of the wider challenges the council faces with its bridges.
Councillors also approved early engagement with local communities and businesses within the affected King Edward areas, along with SEPA, on the loss of the six bridges at Gorrachie, Fortrie, Bruntyards, Millcroft, Mill of Balmaud and North Litterty, to explore other solutions and opportunities to address the loss of these bridges.
Addressing the committee with the report on the issue, Head of Roads, Philip Mackay said: "The report sets out the continued position on the impact of the road closures on bridges in the King Edward area following the weather event on September 28.
"These have had a significant impact on the road network in that area.
"One bridge was brought back into use within several weeks due to the strategic nature of that route and also the knock on impact of having the other bridges out.
"However we are now in the position with over 1380 bridges across the network that we have to prioritise investment on the remaining bridges and these ones do not score highly enough on that basis at the current time to be included in the 10 year programme of work.
"Diverting any of the existing resources to these bridges would mean that maintenance on bridges of a higher strategic value would not be undertaken."
Chairman Peter Argyle welcomed several speakers including NFU Scotland representative Lorna Paterson who explained the situation facing the farming community.
She said: "I am here to represent the farming community to lay out some key points that are worth laying out.
"It would be fair to say that there are in excess of 40 farmers that are affected by the situation we are facing at the moment in this area.
"In order to explain that, there aren’t 40 farmers whose land surrounds these bridges, but the way the farming community operates especially in the King Edward area there is a lot of land traded on a seasonal basis – carrots, potatoes and grass lets.
"One farmer does not always farm his or her own land mass be they a tenant or a landlord, they trade land to have successful and economically viable crop rotation so an organisation for example like Benzies, depend on farmers having blocks of land that they can let on an annual basis in order to work for crop rotation, so they need access on a daily and weekly basis.
"There is a real fear in these businesses that this is not viable because they can’t access the land and in the case of livestock there is a welfare issue as well, so why would a farmer want to use these lets?
"There is a real urgency here and we need to prioritise (Gorrachie being a priority), but it is also important that we have veterinary access."
She continued: "Farmers prefer to use the back roads to stay off the A roads, but were seeing some farmers having to make an eight mile round trip just to get to the other side of their land.
"This flies in the face of government carbon targets as well.
"We all appreciate there is a lack of funds and Aberdeenshire Council are great working with rural communities, but in this case there seems to have been a real lack of engagement.
"Farmers know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they need clarity and a plan of action.
"NFU Scotland would be delighted to get involved to get things moving."
Local farmer and business operator Wilson Strachan also addressed councillors: "I've live for 50 years in King Edward and where I am the bridge at Mill of Balmaud completely washed away.
"This means I am now facing an eight mile round trip for every journey.
"I am having to transport seed, fertiliser on roads that are unsuitable for large machinery and at a massive increase to costs.
"This is even worse during the harvest.
"We’ve already seen issues with ambulances assisting but also tradesmen, deliveries and the school bus – its also affecting carers and the district nurse attending."
He stressed: "Any reason that closes the A947 also puts traffic out onto country routes and what happens if other bridges get damaged at some point.
"We have to find cheaper alternatives to replacing these bridges and instead of restoring them like for like."
Local resident Caroline Close expressed the views of the wider community and said: "Our community came together to define the impact, equating to 136 letters make it clear that the bridges are essential in keeping our community connected, business connected and providing emergency service access as many stressed.
"Police Scotland confirmed that they have no alternative traffic management plan in place for any accidents on the A947 and our church parish and school catchment are cut in half with the long term effect on the school role in the future.
"Significant detours are disproportionately affecting the community.
"The report indicates that the reasons for the decisions are purely financial but there is a stark disparity between Aberdeenshire Councils funding approach to urban and rural areas.
"King Edward is to be further disadvantaged by the significant removal of a large proportion of its infrastructure simply because it is rural.
"For from being a sleepy corner it punches well above its weight."
In opening questioning, councillor John Cox queried on how the council should engage with the community and asked for a briefing note back to members on non-like for like replacement.
Councillor Mark Findlater stressed the issue of timing, asking how long it would take to initiate engagement and how it would be dealt with.
Responding Mr Mackay said: "This will be done through the area manager with community councils and the business community, I don’t expect it to take took long."
Councillor Iain Taylor pointed out that from an agricultural viewpoint:"There is a deadline for this season that I would ask to be kept in mind."
Chairman, councillor Peter Argyle stressed that while the council had finite resources, it would do all it could to reconnect the communities which had effectively been split in half by the storm.
He said: “We have around 1400 bridges of varying size, condition and importance across our region and there is massive pressure on both our services and budgets to maintain them all.
“However, I can reassure all those affected in the King Edward area that we remain committed to talking with both the Scottish and UK governments to seek the additional financial assistance required to rebuild these bridges.”
Vice-chair John Cox added: “We have listened carefully to both the communities affected by these bridge closures and the area committees which represent them and we will now explore other sources of funding which might assist both the rural economy and rural diversity.
“We will also now embark on a programme of community engagement to ensure the views of residents and businesses are clearly heard and understood.”
Following the intense flooding during September, inspections took place at a number of bridges which had been damaged or in some cases completely washed away in the King Edward area.
As a result of those studies, the council prioritised the immediate repair of the bridges at South Mains and Auchmill.
Auchmill Bridge, just off the A947, was damaged in an earlier road traffic collision, while South Mains on the B9105 fell victim to the flooding, but it’s rapid rebuild enabled the reopening the strategic route.
Council structural engineers say the remaining affected bridges have all either partially or fully collapsed and are beyond repair, with watercourses having also suffered extensive scouring.