North Coast 500 route 'accident waiting to happen'
Campaigners call for urgent upgrades to 516-mile route around the north of Scotland.
By Iain Ramage
A 500-mile tourist route around the north of Scotland is in urgent need of upgrade, campaigners have said.
The North Coast 500 project is five years old and has been hailed for boosting tourism - but pressures on basic infrastructure have cast a shadow over its success.
Among the problems highlighted are crumbling barriers, road markings and signage.
However, finances are tight at Highland Council and not all the issues can be immediately dealt with.
One troublesome site is just north of the Kylescu Bridge in Sutherland, where the barriers have completely collapsed in some places.
Neil MacDonald, Scourie Community Council chairman, said: "The barrier's completely collapsed in some places, down towards the bottom of the hill.
"We're quite worried that should someone have an accident it's going to be a serious one.
"We don't expect everything to be done at once but it would be nice to think the council could do a section of barriers every year or even make a start."
Starting and ending at Inverness Castle, the road takes in a host of attractions as it runs through Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness.
Local councillor Hugh Morrison believes the infrastructure issues are an accident waiting to happen.
He said: "We've identified areas that need to be done going back four or five years now, and it's just never happened.
"The problem is an accident waiting to happen and we don't want that. One accident is one too many in my book."
Local plumber David Bowers died in 2010 when his pick-up truck ploughed through a faulty parapet on an ageing bridge at the Kyle of Tongue.
An engineer's report - five years earlier - called for urgent repairs. The courts forced the council to pay a six-figure sum in compensation.
The bridge was later replaced, but doubts linger about safety elsewhere.
David's partner Anne Scott said: "The NC500 is a very popular route now. And the surfaces of the road, the edges of the road, the markings on the road, the signage on the road, I would think everybody would agree that they need a tremendous amount of improvement to that infrastructure."
Highland Council admitted upgrades were needed but said cash was sparse and insisted its roads were safe.
Councillor Alister Mackinnon, budget leader at the authority, said: "Our roads are safe. I admit there are replacements that we need to do but it's down to money.
"We have a set budget for barrier repairs, and replacements for the whole council area, and if we succeed that or there's an emergency or whatever it has to come from another part of the budget and that's the reality of the finances."