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FERGUS EWING: It's about time Transport Scotland had an Inverness office

By Fergus Ewing

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Transport Scotland officials are no stranger to the Highlands.
Transport Scotland officials are no stranger to the Highlands.

Last week in Holyrood we continued our evidence taking on the petition to dual the A9. We heard from four bosses of Transport Scotland. I used the opportunity to ask them whether they will set up an office in Inverness.

After all, the lion's share of the total Scottish spend on capital projects between now and 2035 will be on dualling the A9 and the A96 – at least from Inverness to Auldearn including the Nairn bypass. It will be, at long last, the Highlands' turn!

With all of that activity, surely it makes no sense at all, that the people in Transport Scotland, the national agency must travel the 168 miles to Inverness and back.

In the campaign to dual both roads, I have over the years met Transport Scotland several times in Inverness and Nairn.

The staff usually either drive up from Glasgow and back on the same day or have to stay over in hotels. That does not seem a practical or effective way of doing their work. And moreover, It’s surely sensible that if most of their spend is to be in the Highlands, they deliver the projects by relocating some key staff from Glasgow to the Highlands. I do not call for additional staff, but rather that those working on our projects should be relocated and based here.

The present boss appeared to agree that this is something that she will consider, though I did not detect unbounded enthusiasm! I assured her that they would be very welcome. I will also write to the cabinet secretary to press for this to be done.

This petition, lodged by Laura Hansler, is still work in progress. Nonetheless, it has, I believe, played a major part in exerting the pressure on the Scottish Government which led them, at long last, to announce a revised plan, just before Christmas.

Green heating alternative

The Scottish Government wants us to stop using oil and gas to heat our homes, and to replace them with “green” or decarbonised forms of heating.

Happily, after pressure from myself and others, they have abandoned targets which were simply unachievable and unaffordable. I called them “half-baked pie in the sky”.

Most folk here cannot afford the massive costs of installing heat pumps. These costs are estimated by one trade body at an average of £24,000 per home – or that the type of their homes, often older properties, poorly insulated, are simply not suitable for heat pumps. Who can afford that? And this type of heating does not work for older properties.

Last week I met with those representing the suppliers of heating oil in the Highlands to homes off the gas grid. They briefed me on the trials they are doing of an alternative to heat pumps, which would reduce emissions by over 80 per cent and cost a modest £500 to convert from oil. Why the Scottish Government are not all over this is a mystery to me. Patrick Harvie is the minister in charge.

This technique uses “hydrated vegetable oil”. Adapting existing oil heating systems would allow a cheap, simple way to decarbonise our heating. I shall be pursuing this with the minister in the hope that he can facilitate and encourage the use of this method of going green. We all want to do that, provided it is cheap and affordable. But the heat pump solution is simply not right for most Highland homes.

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