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Doubts over A96 dualling as Transport Scotland announces a review of the multibillion-pound project as part of a consultation

By Scott Maclennan

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The A96 is the main trunk road east of Inverness, passing through Nairn.
The A96 is the main trunk road east of Inverness, passing through Nairn.

The dualling of the A96 was thrown into doubt yesterday.

Transport Scotland has announced a review of the multibillion-pound project as part of a consultation.

Since the Greens joined the SNP in government, fears have been rife that the SNP’s 2021 manifesto promise that the party committed “to dualling the A9 and A96 and remain committed to completing both programmes” would be undermined.

Business leaders, politicians across the political spectrum and those concerned about the almost 2000 accidents on the existing Inverness-Aberdeen route between 2016 and 2020 are worried the door has been opened to cancel the plans.

Transport secretary Jenny Gilruth said: “We remain committed to delivering improvements along the A96 corridor. The current plan is to fully dual the route between Inverness and Aberdeen.”

But she added: “However, we have agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review of the A96 Dualling Programme including a climate compatibility assessment. That is sensible good governance for major investment of that level.”

Highlands and Islands MSP – and Scottish Conservative leader – Douglas Ross said: “This review is confirmation that the SNP are seriously prepared to backtrack on previous commitments to dual the A96, which is so badly needed for communities across the Highlands.

“They are putting the interests of their Green coalition partners above the needs of our rural and remote communities.

“The A96 is already in urgent need of upgrading, and needs to be dualled, but now the SNP are using this review to kick these improvements into the long grass.

“Everyone understands the need to tackle our climate emergency and achieve net zero ambitions, but in the Highlands having access to a car remains an absolute necessity.”

Highland Greens MSP Ariane Burgess stated her opposition to the programme and called for those who walk, wheel and cycle to speak out in support of a “green transport corridor”.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess in Forres. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Green MSP Ariane Burgess in Forres. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

She said: “Cheap, reliable public transport which can facilitate commuting, safe active travel infrastructure, dualling the Inverness-Aberdeen train line to encourage freight as an alternative to haulage and world class EV charging infrastructure as well as safety upgrades and bypasses which improve the quality of life in towns bisected by the A96 should be part of the discussion.”

Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing rubbished those claims, saying: “This crucial point must be made: we should not be anti-road but be anti-emission. In about 10-15 years’ time cars will be low emission or electric.

“So most of the usage of a dualled A96 throughout its lifespan for the rest of this century will be with zero or very modest emissions.

“However, the paramount point is that of safety for road users. Dualled links are safer because the risk of head-on collisions is reduced. This means fewer lives will be lost or indeed incur serious injuries if a road is dualled.

“It is time for the Highlands to receive the investment needed to upgrade its transport links to the level already existing in the central belt.”

He confirmed that neither the section from “Inverness to Hardmuir nor the Nairn bypass” is subject to the review as it has already gone through a public local inquiry.

• To respond to the consultation, visit Transport Scotland.

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