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Pressure growing on Scottish Government over A9 as Fergus Ewing writes to transport minister

By Scott Maclennan

Fergus Ewing.
Fergus Ewing.

A blistering letter to the transport minister ahead of the Scottish Government’s much-heralded autumn statement on the A9 dualling programme has called for immediate action on four shovel-ready sections of the road.

Pressure is mounting on the government as it emerged that the north has the lowest percentage of dualled roads anywhere in the UK: just 1.6 per cent of Highland roads are dualled.

Fergus Ewing expressed his concerns to Fiona Hyslop that “such is the depth of the scepticism in the Highlands now as a result of the broken Scottish Government serial promises” action must be taken.

The Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP is demanding that the Tay Crossing-Ballinluig; Ballinluig-Killiecrankie; Glen Garry-Dalwhinnie; and Dalwhinnie-Crubenmore, totalling 21 miles of road, moves immediately to tender.

He wrote: “Such is the depth of the scepticism in the Highlands now as a result of the broken Scottish Government serial promises to deliver the project by 2025, it is absolutely essential, in my view, that in the announcement, there must be a positive clear announcement that the four sections of the road which have had ‘made orders’ issued, in July and November 2021, are now going into procurement.”

Mr Ewing argues the SNP faces a very real credibility test amid the “life and death” urgency of finishing the Inverness-Perth dualling programme – which the government admitted earlier this year was unachievable by its original 2025 deadline – because at the current rate that delays are mounting, despite earlier promises.

He said: “I remind you that your predecessor but one, Jenny Gilruth, promised that the whole procurement process would be concluded and a decision be made this year.

“Instead, I learn from business that no decision is now expected until next July at the earliest: A delay of an extra seven months. This is another serious setback and it is unfortunate that this information about slippage was not shared voluntarily with parliament.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf issued a “cast-iron” promise to dual the A9 and made further assurances during the SNP leadership debate hosted by The Inverness Courier in March – a month after the government conceded it would miss the dualling target.

Mr Ewing wrote: “Whatever mode is used, the vital element is that your statement DOES make a cast iron commitment to go to procurement on all four sections and to specify when that will happen in each case.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I am NOT suggesting that that means all four must be done at the same time, as, for practical reasons, that may not be possible as it would mean the complete closure of the A9.

“However, unlike in the past, where only one section was done at a time, there is no reason why there could not be, for example, two sections going to procurement at a time. What is important is that clear time commitments are given as to when the work will be carried out for each one of the four sections.”

The lack of information flowing to the Scottish Parliament and the Highlands is at an unacceptable level – both the aforementioned new seven-month delay and lack of clarity why the shovel-ready sections were not procured.

“Moreover, it is surely unacceptable that no reason or excuse was given for why these four sections that have been procurement ready for two years, have not yet entered procurement,” Mr Ewing said.

“Can you please now provide such an explanation? There has now been two full years in which to do this. Is the failure because of lack of funds or lack of a worded out strategy or both?

“I think the public is entitled to this detailed explanation because two years delay is a very serious further failure.”

Mr Ewing also called for a programme board to be established consisting of MSPs and community representatives and for it to meet twice a year and issue detailed updates to the public.

He told Ms Hyslop: “The programme board set up and which should I believe be chaired by you and your successors on the delivery of the A9 project would not only help ensure swift progress but also increase public confidence and regain lost trust.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and work is continuing across the route. We expect to update parliament on the programme for completing the remaining sections this autumn.”

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