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Election 2021: Inverness and Nairn candidates tell us what they would do about the range of transport issues faced by the constituency ranging from potholes to trains and air services

By Scott Maclennan

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Inverness Train Station.
Inverness Train Station.

Continuing our weekly series of asking the candidates to address the key issues facing Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch we continue now with the problem of transport.

Though roads cratered with potholes have dominated headlines across the country for some time it is not the only issue when it comes to connectivity in the Highlands. The Highland Mainline has regularly fallen victim to extreme weather in recent years that has led to services almost routinely being interrupted and passengers transferred to coaches.

Despite major programmes being announced like the dualling of the A9 and the A96 as far as Inverness – something welcomed in almost all quarters – there are now growing concerns about the timescale of delivery despite reassurances from the government.

Vital rural roads – still the only way to reach some parts of the region – have deteriorated in some places to such an extent as to be almost unusable prompting real concerns that the region is being left behind.

The situation within the city is not any better with Academy Street notoriously cratered while also being one of the most polluted streets in Scotland.

Whoever wins in May will have to deliver on transport for the whole constituency so we asked the candidates what they would do about this most intractable and potentially expensive issue.

Arian Burgess, Greens Candidate

Climate scientists have made it clear we have nine years to make radical change or climate chaos will become irreversible. Transport is the single biggest source of climate emissions in Scotland. Our future depends on changing this.

In the next five years, public transport must become the preferred choice of travel for as many people as possible. This means it must be affordable, and work for our rural as well as urban communities.

Currently, the services are simply not available in the way they should be. The trains are slow and often get delayed for technical reasons - we need to bring our railways back into public ownership. Where a bus route exists, the buses sometimes don’t show up, and are expensive when they do - we need to allow local authorities and communities to set the terms, or even run our bus services.

Options for active travel are limited, the few cycle lanes we have are way below the standards required, and walking or wheeling are an afterthought when new links and developments are built - we need the government to invest in a proper modern, joined up and affordable public transport and active travel system.

That includes vital maintenance of the current road system to keep us safe. But we need to look at the bigger picture. If we invest in our railways, we can take freight off key roads. The A9, A82 and A96 would benefit from lighter lorry traffic, reducing journey times, accidents, and driver frustration.

The Scottish Greens have always been committed to this cause. Already we have ensured that young people will be able to travel by bus for free from this summer. This will have a huge positive impact as it makes the whole of Scotland accessible - for jobs, training and participation in volunteer opportunities and social life.

As an MSP, I will make sure those changes to our transport systems will bring us up to the standards of countries like the Netherlands and Germany. Our future depends on it.

Fergus Ewing, SNP Candidate

Over the past five years we have seen great progress in our commitment to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness, and agreement of the planned route of the dualled A96 from Inverness to Auldearn, including a Nairn bypass. I am delighted that completing these projects is part of my party manifesto. As your MSP I will continue my campaigning work to deliver them.

Train links are vital too, and major investment has been taking place here as well. I was proud to have brokered the MOU for a Rannoch Rail freight scheme - perhaps the largest modal shift scheme yet this century which would see 500,000 tonnes of timber off our roads onto rail. If returned I will work to deliver this and build further on the SNP’s proposals for a further major extension of active travel including cycle ways in our improved routes.

I also want to see air links, so badly affected by the pandemic, restored from Inverness airport. People living and growing businesses here are entitled to direct connections to the same level as elsewhere, especially as low emission planes are planned for island connections from Inverness. Bus transport must be developed, and we will extend concessionary travel to all under 22 years old, which will transform transport for young people in the north.

We have been accelerating infrastructure for electric and ultra-low emission cars and buses but, of course, they will still need roads for them to driven on, therefore it isn’t logical to have a political fixation against all roads and betrays a lack of understanding of the North of Scotland and for the many for whom a car is a necessity not a luxury.

Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour Candidate

It is clear most forms of transport are big polluters and, if we are to meet our carbon reduction targets, we need to change our car use dramatically.

The problem is that locally the alternative does not work for many people, forcing would-be train and bus users back to their cars. So much so, that those who could really do without the expense of running a car, are forced to do so, doing without other essentials as a consequence.

Scottish Labour will deliver free bus travel to under 25s. We did that for those over 60, and have continually defended that policy from attack. We have seen how it impacted on over 60s bus usage and therefore aspire to provide free bus travel for all.

To encourage usage we need to provide buses when people need them. Not everyone is tucked up at home for the night at 6pm. To do that we need to enable councils to run their own bus services and will help them do that and in Highland that would push a service out to our rural areas.

We also need to speed up rail services. There are good rail connections to our constituency, but they are incredibly slow, slower than a car and that’s because the infrastructure needs upgraded and improved. How on earth can we persuade people to use these services if they continue to go at a snail’s pace? We also need to increase the amount of freight on the tracks to keep it off the roads.

The amount of traffic on our roads is untenable. Highland Council has £1,000 per kilometre to fix the roads, an impossible task, obvious to us all as we bump over the potholes. We need investment in our public transport network to provide real choices.

Dr David Gregg, Scottish Liberal Democrat Candidate

Living in a place that is bigger than Wales, every Highlander is familiar how hard it can be to get around our beautiful surroundings. Our railways have not had the investment they need. Travel times to Perth and the Central belt are slower now than in 1985. Successive governments have failed to invest in our key road routes. They're now struggling to cope with increasing traffic levels.

Our road difficulties aren’t only an inconvenience for us, they are bad for the planet and for our health. Investing in the A9 and A96 would make travel harder to disrupt, making bus and coach travel more attractive. This means less emissions, better air quality, and less wear and tear on the roads.

Investing in our railways will also help us change to greener forms of travel. Dualing the lines to Perth and Aberdeen will expand their passenger and freight capacity. A disportionate number of crashes involved freight transport. The more freight we can get onto rail, the safer we can make our roads. The more passengers we can get into trains, the greener we make our region. Outside of this dualing, Transport Scotland should look again at extending the railway to Grantown. This would open up the town for both tourist and commuter travel.

One topic many people have got in touch with me about is increasing spending on active travel. The Scottish Liberal Democrats would double the amount currently spent by the SNP government. I want to see a world where most of us can walk, cycle, or wheel on most of our daily trips. We'd all be happier and healthier.

In aviation, we need those in charge to start listening to local voices. My fellow Liberal Democrats Jamie Stone and Molly Nolan had to fight for a public service obligation to keep vital airlinks in place in Wick. They shouldn't need to do that. Our air routes are vital for emergency situations and tourism, and the government shouldn't have to have it pointed out to them. We need a commitment to basic standards of connectivity for our communities. Making sure most people have reasonable access to air travel when needed is part of that.

Andrew MacDonald, Restore Scotland Candidate

As a former operator of a delivery company, I had often driven over 1,000 miles a week and believe a radical overhaul of our transport infrastructure to increase mobility and connectedness is overdue. As I stated last week, we Highlanders face unique challenges due to the rurality and remoteness of our local authority. I, therefore, present today the Restore Scotland prospectus for a set of road and rail options to foster greater future economic and social resilience.

Firstly, completion of dualling the A9 is critical to ensuring safe passage for commuters, holidaymakers and travellers as well as expediting development of the A96, both of which benefits the local economy. However, there is also a need to address the dangerous and overloaded A82, which has regressed during my lifetime from being one of the better Highland roads to now being indisputably one of the worst.

Secondly, I propose reopening the railway line from Fort William to Fort Augustus and extending it to Inverness along the southside of Loch Ness. This would alleviate traffic on the railway line from Perth to Inverness by giving a westbound option for northbound freight. It would also restore another of the line closures from the past and offer alongside the 30 mile new development, the relaying and refurbishing of existing track and bridges on the western section.

Thirdly, and finally, there is scope for tourist traffic on what is one the most scenic landscape routes. The cherry on top would be dualling the Perth to Inverness railway line by improving hugely the traffic potential and time reduction. It must also be said that Highland Council should spend more time on road surfacing and potholes than vanity projects like the Crown Road monstrosity that cost hard-working and tax-paying Highlanders £60,000 only to be destroyed by rainfall.

Edward Mountain, Scottish Conservative Candidate

We must invest in the long-term future of our rural communities by improving our road, rail, ferry and air links across the Highlands and Islands.

For too long, the SNP have neglected our transport infrastructure and prioritised their pet projects in the Central Belt. For example, while it still takes 8 hours to travel by train from Wick to Edinburgh, the SNP thought it would be better to splurge £740 million to speed up rail journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow by just 9 minutes.

If even a small portion of that investment had been spent in the Highlands and Islands, we would have seen significant enhancements in our connectivity.

More local roads could have been repaired for a start. Having driven over 60,000 miles to meet with constituents in the last five years, I have witnessed at first-hand the shocking state of our Highland roads.

If re-elected I would press for our local authority to finally receive the fair funding it needs to fix the potholes and make our roads safer again.

I am also delighted that the Scottish Conservatives are prioritising the Highlands and have set out bold plans to improve our main trunk roads. Upgrading the A9, A96 and the A82 without delay can help our region recover from the pandemic.

We simply cannot trust the SNP to do the same because of their dismal track record when it comes to delivery. For instance, over £200m has been spent by the SNP on two new ferries which are still overdue – a fiasco a Holyrood inquiry labelled as a “catastrophic failure.”

The Highlands and Islands deserve better. Only the Scottish Conservatives are fully focussed on rebuilding our vital transport infrastructure.

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