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FERGUS EWING: Pressure has kept the issue of A9 dualling alive

By Fergus Ewing

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There are hopes of an A9 dualling update this week.
There are hopes of an A9 dualling update this week.

This week, I expect the Scottish Government to make its much vaunted Ministerial Statement on the A9 dualling project. It was – ahem – to be delivered “in the Autumn.” As the Johnny Mercer lyrics of the famous song say: “The autumn leaves, lie thick and still!” …. So let’s hope it is a case of better late than never.

The political pressure exerted on the Scottish Government on the A9 and A96 dualling over the past year, by this newspaper group, other Highland press, and Highland politicians from all parties (except the Greens of course) has kept the issue in the forefront of debate over the year. More government promises have been made than by Casanova in a night out on the town. Will they be delivered?

Industry sources expect private finance to be used. Long term capital is raised over, say, 30 years to fund the project. Government pays back the costs each year, over that period.

Two questions to be faced up to are: Where’s the capacity here to actually perform the work, in people and companies? And is the traditional financial return to the contractors on roads projects sufficiently attractive – at a standard three per cent, when so much risk has been passed to the companies?

So the problem is NOT the availability of capital. It is the shortage of people and over-abundance of unfair risk. Too much risk and no one will actually be willing to do the work. That’s what happened in the first Tomatin-Moy tender.

Bear in mind the competing interest for civil work to roads projects. Much other work is out there. There is electrification of rail, strengthening the National Grid, renewables projects and the building of several major pump storage projects.

I hope Transport Scotland realise their contract form was worse than useless because many major civil engineering companies reckoned it was too risky and better profits can be made in these other sectors.

It is essential, I urged the minister last week, that as well as the remaining eight single carriageway sections on the A9 going to procurement, the A96 from Inverness to Nairn, including the bypass, must join them. If not, then Nairn would truly be the forgotten town of Scotland.

Meanwhile, my new year resolution will be to continue to hold ministerial colleagues’ “feet to the Holyrood fire”. That’s my job.

All the best to all from me and my excellent team of Becca, Rosie and Dani for a peaceful Christmas and a good new year.

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