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Highland Council and partners issues urgent A9 appeal to Scottish Government

By Gavin Musgrove

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Dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness is scheduled to be completed by 2025.
Dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness is scheduled to be completed by 2025.

Highland Council and its partners have issued an urgent appeal to the Scottish Government highlighting the importance of progressing the plans for dualling of its two arterial routes.

The A9 is scheduled to be completed by 2025 and the A96 by 2030 but doubts have grown in recent months on commitments to these dates.

This is not only due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on the country's finances but also due to concerns of possible concessions if there is to be a SNP pact with the Scottish Greens at Holyrood.

Despite the 2025 completion date approaching, the section between Dalraddy by Aviemore to Kincraig is so far the only dualled stretch in use as part of the project to cost £3 billion.

The council, Hi-Trans, NHS Highlands and UHI have been sufficiently concerned to go public together to reinforce the need for the two big money projects to be fully completed.

The council and its partners have said the region has been hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit and also pointed out the dualling of both roads is also crucial in terms of public safety.

Councillor Trish Robertson, chairwoman of the council’s economy and infrastructure committee, said: “The A9 and A96 projects are vital to the Highland economy going forward.

“As a region we rely on road transport for goods and services, and we are deserving of as high a quality infrastructure as Central Belt Scotland.

"Transport whether current modes or electric vehicles and the movement of large renewable energy plant and replacement fuels will still need safe and appropriate transport routes in and out of the Highlands along these long distances.”

She added: “Trains can be unreliable in the winter months, and our rail infrastructure is limited, so over reliance on this form of transport would be an impossible and irresponsible proposition.

"We need to build our connectivity, not hamper it.”

Highland Council convener Bill Lobban said: “The vastly improved connectivity provided by the dualling of the A9 and A96 and substantial improvements of the A82 will ensure the post pandemic economic recovery of the whole Highlands.

“The Highlands are remote from the rest of the country so we need to be better connected.

"Scaremongering about the effects of additional traffic are totally baseless especially given that by the time the A9 is dualled, sometime next decade, we will be seeing hydrogen powered heavy vehicles and predominately electric cars.”

Allan Henderson, Chair of Hi-Trans, said: “Historically, Highland has been provided with little in terms of roads investment, and we’re always told it’s due to finance constraints.

“We must now ensure these roads are delivered here in Highland and we do not need other barriers being placed be in the way.”

He added: “I am all for greening and climate change mitigation but we can only do that with a level playing field which includes the continuing dualling of the A9 and A96."

Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland’s Director of Public Health, said: “Increased connectivity across Highland is extremely important and the development of transport links will bring many benefits to the area.

“It is vital that we develop sustainable transport links, including active travel and public transport, to enable quicker and safer travel between Highland and the rest of Scotland.”

Professor Todd Walker, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands said: “Our communities need a sustainable transport network which balances environmental, economic and social needs and the future development of our regional economy relies on that.

"We also require that network to allow our staff and students travel to and from local campuses, across our operating area and further afield.

“This will naturally include a range of transport options including rail, road, ferries and electric cars with the infrastructure to support it. We need to get this balance right.”

​Sustainable transport campaigners said last week they are hoping the SNP’s proposed deal with the Greens will spell the end of work to dual the A9 and A96.

Colin Howden, director of Transform Scotland, said he believed there “might be some movement” on multibillion-pound road projects if a power-sharing pact is confirmed.

Scottish ministers have said a new procurement strategy is currently being drawn up to ensure the A9 upgrade can be delivered “efficiently and within budget”.

A spokesman for Transport Scotland said: “The Sustainable Investment Hierarchy, as set out Scotland’s National Transport Strategy, is clear that we will not build infrastructure to cater for forecasts of unconstrained increases in traffic volumes.

"This approach is embedded in the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2), which is in progress and due to report later this year, will consider how the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may shape our future transport system, the demands placed on it, as well as identifying transport interventions which help deliver our commitment to create an inclusive and net zero emissions economy.

“The publication of our STPR2 Phase 1 recommendations in February clearly set out our ambitions to maintain and make best use of our existing transport assets over building new infrastructure.

“All major projects within the Scottish Government’s transport portfolio are subject to significant assessment work to ensure we deliver the right schemes and minimise impacts on the environment.

"We need to balance the extensive changes required to meet a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions with our duty to ensure that Scotland has high quality infrastructure to meet the needs of all our residents, businesses and visitors.”

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