The Scottish Government is facing mounting pressure to foot the bill for a massive Perth roadworks plan which could radically change the face of the city.
Council chiefs have borrowed nearly £40 million to pay for a major upgrade of the A9/A85 junction. The development will provide a vital link to thousands of new homes and a secondary school which are earmarked for land at Bertha Park.
But the loan could end up costing taxpayers £1.5m in interest repayments each year for the next three decades or possibly even longer.
Now councillors are calling for talks with Scotland’s transport minister. They want the Scottish Government to pay for the work, arguing that trunk road improvements are not the responsibility of local authorities.
Councillor Mac Roberts, leader of the region’s Conservative group, said: “The council appears to be the poor relation when it comes to the Scottish Government’s support for infrastructure projects.
“The good people of Perth and Kinross are being asked to shoulder the financial burden of the A9/A85 roadworks scheme which amounts to some £38.4m of borrowed money and will cost some £1.5m in interest payments per annum for as long as the loan lasts.
“And with repayments dependent on the sale of houses this could be at least 30 years perhaps forever.”
Mr Roberts raised a motion for further talks at a meeting of the full council.
He added: “At least half of the roadworks are trunk roads which should as a matter of course be entirely funded by the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland.
“Other local authorities appear to have no problem in receiving Scottish Government funding for their projects, so why not Perth and Kinross? What have we done wrong to be treated like a poor relation?”
Mr Roberts’ motion calling for the “strongest possible representation” to be made for financial support was backed by Councillor Ann Cowan, whose ward covers 22 miles of A85 trunk road.
She said she was shocked to learn that the Scottish Government was not funding the project.
“Normally councils will not undertake funding of roads which are not their responsibility, so why are we doing so in this particular case when the costs amount to a staggering £38.4 million?” she said.
“I understand that this junction will benefit Perth and so I accept that we should contribute towards the cost, but I feel strongly that the Scottish Government should meet its responsibility and not leave Perth shouldering the entire burden.
“Council tax-payers have a perfect right to demand an answer.”
Council leader Ian Miller said that the Scottish Government had already been asked to contribute to the plan.
“The works envisaged are indeed much wider than the junction mentioned and the main costs of the project are not associated with the A9 or A85,” he said.
“I can assure you that the Scottish Government has already been approached about this by myself and senior officers of this council.
“The dialogue continues on a regular basis with the Scottish Government to consider infrastructure needs for the future.”
He argued that the terms of Mr Roberts’ motion had already been fulfilled.
Councillor Peter Barratt responded: “I think to say that this motion is null and void is not satisfactory.”
The committee backed his suggestion to invite the transport minister to meet local authority officers to discuss further funding for the junction.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The improvements in infrastructure at this junction are required to support the local development plan and as such are the responsibility of the local authority and the developers.”
She added: “The vast majority of funding, including funding for local roads, is being provided by means of a block grant.
“This government does not believe in micro managing how local authorities spend their money.
“It is the responsibility of individual local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities, having first fulfilled their statutory obligations and the jointly agreed set of national and local priorities.”
A planning application for the Bertha Park development is expected to be lodged early next year.