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Call to scrap all new road-building plans branded 'very naive'

By Matt Leslie

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Highland Council and the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS) have hit back at demands from walking and cycling groups to scrap all plans to build new roads in Scotland.

Cycling Scotland, Cycling UK, Forth Environment Link, Living Streets, Paths for All, Ramblers Scotland, Sustrans Scotland and Transform Scotland issued the call as part of a joint response to the National Transport Strategy.

They say they wish to see space taken from private vehicles to make more room for walking and segregated cycling, affordable and integrated public transport being delivered instead of new roads, support for behaviour change programmes which encourage active and sustainable travel and improved access for bicycles.

Sustrans deputy CEO John Lauder said: "The new National Transport Strategy takes a big step forward. The way we travel plays a huge role in our lives, so we’re especially pleased to see the strategy highlight the role transport can play in health and wellbeing.

Plans for new road-building in the north and north-east include dualling the A96 between Inverness and Nairn.
Plans for new road-building in the north and north-east include dualling the A96 between Inverness and Nairn.

"We know that walking, cycling and public transport are best placed to deliver the aims of the new strategy, and these six priorities should be the focus to make it a success.

"This includes an end to expensive new road-building schemes in order to tackle the climate emergency – this money can be better spent on sustainable, healthy alternatives."

However, the convener of Highland Council, Councillor Bill Lobban, rejected this claim, saying that the cycling groups were looking at a north situation through central belt eyes.

“Try telling the many people and businesses in the Highlands who have been waiting for years to see investment in the A9 and A96 roads that all planned improvement works will stop," he said.

"These organisations are based in the central belt where the road networks are more extensive and there are more public transport options than commuters and businesses in the Highlands have.

"I feel it is very naive to issue such a statement without understanding the challenges and particular circumstances of everyone who would be affected if all road improvements stopped.

"We have campaigned for many years to see the A9 between Perth and Inverness dualled as it improves our link to the rest of Scotland, helps the economy and will improve safety.

"With work on this project and the work on the A96 route from Inverness to Aberdeen under way, we want to see it completed and will continue working with Transport Scotland and our partners HITRANS to ensure the Highlands has the investment in vital infrastructure it needs."

The chairman of HITRANS, Councillor Allan Henderson, added: "In making their comments these organisations are aiming to divert funds from these desperately needed infrastructure projects.

"As a council we are supportive of encouraging all modes of transport, including walking, cycling and public transport. We are working in partnership with Sustrans on several exciting projects – the Inverness City Active Travel Network, Wick Street Design and Dingwall 20 mph schemes, to name a few.

"We also need to ensure that the main arterial routes leading to the Highlands, and our own network of roads, keep our communities connected and allow Highland-based businesses to flourish.”

The Caithness civic leader, Councillor Willie Mackay, said: "I concur with Bill Lobban's comments. Our own infrastructure up in Caithness is important.

"We need strategic roads to help both businesses and commuters as our own road network is not as good as the one in the central belt of Scotland.

"Regarding the environment, we already have cycling routes and walking paths in Caithness and there is ample space for both cycling and walking.

"However, our road infrastructure needs improvement – especially for getting up from Inverness to Caithness by road."

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