A ROW has broken out over additional funding to repair crumbling roads on the North Coast 500.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant called on the Scottish Government to give Highland Council extra money for much-needed repairs, ahead of the busy summer season on the popular tourist route.
But tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop accused her of putting people off visiting the area by complaining about the poor conditions.
The route starts in Inverness and takes in 500 miles of Highland coast, both east and west, before ending back in the city. It has been a massive boon to the local economy, particularly in remote areas, but the constant traffic has put a strain on the roads.
Last week during a Holyrood debate, Ms Grant asked: "Highland Council has to maintain more than 7000km of road and the north coast route makes up more than 830 of that.
"A constituent recently said to me, ‘we used to drive on the left-hand side of the road – now we drive on what’s left of the road’.
"What assistance is the Scottish Government giving Highland Council for repairing and upgrading this iconic route?"
This came in the same week as the government dished out £780,000 for improvements to four attractions in Skye and Orkney, in the first allocation of the £6 million rural tourism infrastructure fund, announced last year.
Ms Hyslop said: "The Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring that the increase has positive outcomes for communities and local businesses along the route.
"I am not the transport minister and Highland Council is responsible for the roads that it administers.
"However, we are very conscious of the infrastructure issue.
"Talking in extremes is not a good advert for the NC500 and members should be very careful about what is reported with regard to whether people can access the route or not.
"I think that what the member has just said is very dangerous."
Afterwards, Ms Grant hit out at the allegation, saying: "Obviously I totally refute the claims by the cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop that my comments during this exchange were dangerous.
"The fact of the matter is that what is dangerous is the state of our roads and in this case the NC500.
"This route is well used by all types of road user from car drivers to motorcyclists and pedal cyclists.
"If any one of them, particularly motorcyclists and pedal cyclists, hit one of these potholes along this route then there is a high likelihood of them losing control.
"What we have here is an accident waiting to happen.
"Anyone using any of our Highland roads, of which there are over 7000km, can testify to the shocking state they are in and this fact in itself is what is highly dangerous and I want the government to do more to support the local authority to tackle this problem.
"In the case of the NC500, we have perhaps the most successful tourist attraction for years in the north and west, bringing millions to the economy of the scattered communities.
"I was merely highlighting this point to the cabinet secretary hoping she and the government would maybe have a plan for addressing this very serious issue."
Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain also made the case for extra funding for the route, but Ms Hyslop retorted that since both Conservative and Labour parties voted against the recent government budget, they should not be asking for more money.