A senior politician has blasted the Scottish Government after the AWPR opening was delayed a fourth time.
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden said north-east residents would be “very disappointed” by the news contractors would not fully open the road before Christmas – despite pledging on December 5 to finish the 4.5-mile stretch between Parkhill and Craibstone before December 25.
Previously, deadlines given by the Scottish Government – winter 2017, March of this year and late autumn of this year – have all now been missed.
Mr Lumsden added: “This is certainly not the Christmas present the people of Aberdeen and the north-east would have wanted.”
It comes after the Evening Express revealed earlier this month the £745 million scheme had now cost more than £1 billion. However, Transport Scotland has said the Christmas deadline was “heavily caveated” in case there was severe weather between the announcement on December 5 and Christmas Day.
It is understood strong winds and heavy rain brought by Storm Deirdre last weekend are one of the major factors in the delay, as they have hampered crucial repairs to the second Don Crossing.
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The new “forecast” for that final section to open is some time in January.
Conservative Mr Lumsden added: “People will be very disappointed by this. What will confuse people the most is that it was just two weeks ago that the contractors sat before a Scottish Parliament committee and said it would be open by Christmas and they were supported by the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson.
“If they weren’t sure, they could have been more cautious with their deadline, but yet again they have missed it.”
His thoughts were echoed by independent Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald, who said: “It is bitterly disappointing to learn this deadline has been missed and it begs the question of why the contractors put the date out there, creating yet more expectation which had simply led to further disappointment for north-east residents.”
Two MSPs from across the political divide questioned the timing of the announcement, which came yesterday during the last day of business at Holyrood before Christmas.
Conservative north-east MSP Peter Chapman said: “The SNP has waited until the last day of the parliamentary term to sneak out this news. That is an affront to the people of the north-east.
“I said before that a pre-Christmas opening for the whole route was very optimistic.
“However, news that a January 2019 opening cannot be guaranteed will be met with utter dismay.”
And Labour north-east MSP Lewis Macdonald added: “Ministers admitted they have known since Tuesday the promise given to open the Don Crossing on the AWPR in December would not be met, yet kept this further failure secret until the very end of First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
“This cynical ploy shows a profound disrespect for Parliament and a complete failure on the part of SNP ministers to be accountable to the people of Scotland.”
However, Mr Matheson, of the SNP, said he urged caution two weeks ago about the deadline.
He added: “This week, Aberdeen Roads Ltd (which is leading the project) informed us it was no longer able to meet its own deadline of concluding works at the Don Crossing before Christmas.
“This is just over a fortnight since it set this deadline publicly in Parliament.
“I have consistently urged caution and realism about ARL’s ambitious timescales.
“Unfortunately, as disappointing as this news is, it comes as no surprise to me it has been unable to achieve this.”
He added: “We have been here before with ARL. My officials and I will continue to work constructively and offer every assistance to get the remaining 4.5 miles open as soon as possible.”
Mr Matheson said ARL had experienced a series of “technical issues” when building the Don Crossing.
He added: “In terms of an opening date for this section, although ARL are forecasting January 2019, they have been unable to provide a definitive date,” said Mr Matheson.
ARL said it could not comment due to contractual restrictions.
While announcing the delay, Transport Scotland said businesses had welcomed the opening of the Craibstone to Stonehaven and Charleston section of the road last week.
Mr Matheson said: “More than 85% of the AWPR is now open to traffic and is delivering immediate benefits which the people of the north-east are clearly enjoying.”
Rainbow City Taxis managing director Russel McLeod said new journey times have been “unbelievable” since last week.
He added: “Journeys are quicker and traffic is lighter. It’s really everything we hoped for.
“Driving in the city centre is unrecognisable compared to before – particularly if you’re travelling across Anderson Drive, where traffic is noticeably quieter.
“In theory, when journeys are quicker, the customer will pay less and we’re seeing a reduction in some fares as a result. It’s a huge improvement and it’s something I never thought I’d see in Aberdeen.”
Aberdeen International Airport managing director Steve Szalay said: “For the passengers using the road to get to the airport, it’s proving incredibly popular.
“People are getting to the airport early, which is great for us in terms of getting people checked in and through security.
“Before the AWPR opened you’d have to allow an hour in traffic to get to the airport for an early flight and on a good day it might be 40 minutes – now it’s about 20 minutes.
“That’s a lot more palatable and a better customer experience. All in all, it’s a really positive story.”
And Calum Richardson, founder of the Bay fish and chip shop in Stonehaven added: “The Bay alone has seen a real increase in people visiting and we’re looking forward to welcoming more people down to Stonehaven’s beach front.
“Stonehaven businesses will hopefully see an increase in new customers as a result of this.”