Transport chiefs are investigating claims that the Aberdeen bypass was delayed because of a failure to reroute an oil pipeline and other utilities on time.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown yesterday revealed that firms had been warned before work begun that they must allow for the early diversion of underground cables and pipes to avoid repeating the mistakes of the chaotic Edinburgh tram project.
But the SNP minister said that the main contractors building the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) had insisted that the utility companies had failed to heed the warning, and that it contributed to the delay in the £745million scheme.
The 37-mile road was due to open in spring this year, but Transport Scotland recently pushed back the target to late autumn.
Bad weather, including Storm Frank in 2015, and the liquidation in January of construction firm Carillion, were among the stated reasons for the delay, as well as problems with diverting utilities.
At Holyrood’s connectivity committee yesterday, convener Edward Mountain said: “I’m assuming the utilities had been there for some time and the planning for their removal should have been undertaken at the beginning.
“I just don’t understand why it would be a delay.”
Responding, Mr Brown said he had “gathered together all utility providers in a meeting in Aberdeen” at the start of the project and said to them “we wanted to make sure there wasn’t any question of any delays”.
Recalling the Edinburgh tram debacle, Mr Brown said: “If you remember at that time as well we were in the teeth of the Edinburgh tram situation, and that had been by far the biggest issue there – people didn’t know what they were going to find when they dug up the roads of Edinburgh.
“So I got the utility companies together to say ‘we’ve got to make sure this is done as quickly as possible’.
“However, the contractors believe they’ve had issues in terms of utility diversions, so we are investigating that currently.”
Pressed for details, Mr Brown added: “I don’t think it is just one, but the one that sticks out in my mind would have been the oil pipeline, which was a big issue for them in getting the permission from the utility provider.
“Once they had mentioned that to us, and it’s their responsibility to get those utility diversions, I did intervene on their behalf with the provider to try and ask for things to be hurried up in relation to that.”