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First Minister turns down invite to visit Nairn amidst A96 bypass delays

By Federica Stefani

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First Minister Humza Yousaf.
First Minister Humza Yousaf.

The First Minister has turned down an invitation to visit Nairn and see for himself the impact the lack of a bypass on the A96 has on the area.

MSP for Inverness and Nairn, Fergus Ewing, issued the invitation to Humza Yousaf in January, asking him to visit the town as part of his “cast-iron” pledge to dual the A96 between Inverness and Auldearn – including the Nairn bypass.

However he said this week that the invitation has now been refused –with the reply coming from the recently-appointed new Cabinet Secretary for Transport.

Mr Ewing said: “The reply came from Fiona Hyslop. He is very busy, she said!

“I find this reply not just disappointing but not good enough.”

Fergus Ewing had invited First Minister Humza Yousaf to visit Nairn and see for himself the impact a lack of bypass has.
Fergus Ewing had invited First Minister Humza Yousaf to visit Nairn and see for himself the impact a lack of bypass has.

Last week Mr Ewing criticised the Scottish Government’s “failure” to publish a timetable for delivery of dualling of the A96.

This comes as the “made orders” were published last week – almost three years after the initial planned publication date.

A letter written by former Cabinet Secretary for Transport Michael Matheson in February 2021 confirmed then that the due date for publication had been the summer of that same year.

Mr Ewing also expressed his frustration over the repeated use of “financial pressures” as the regular go-to in terms of justifying delays.

Cabinet Secretary for Transport Fiona Hyslop.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport Fiona Hyslop.

Whilst acknowledging that financial pressures exist now – and probably in the next financial year – he said that if Nairn and the Highlands are really a priority for the Scottish Government, the funding can be allocated.

He said: “The capital budget, even if reduced, will still provide four to five billion pounds each year for the next 10 years.

Progress remains slow on realising bypass ambitions for the town.
Progress remains slow on realising bypass ambitions for the town.

“There is no way that the bypass construction can begin in the next year, nor probably the year after. That is because they have not even started to work out how to procure it – despite having had nearly three years in this parliament session to do so.

“But if Nairn is to be the priority that Humza has promised, then surely the A9 and A96 merit what may amount to around one or two years of the total 10 years budget provision?

“Especially because the Highlands have been starved of investment in transport schemes by Holyrood by all administrations since devolution – now 25 years ago this week.

“So the ‘no money’ argument “ is a smokescreen and irrelevant. If the Scottish Government want to make the Highlands a priority, as they say they do, then they can.”

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: “This government remains absolutely committed to dualling the Inverness to Nairn section including the Nairn bypass.

"The publication of Made Orders for the scheme on March 12 represents a major step forward in delivering around 31km of new dual carriageway between Inverness and Hardmuir.

“Subject to there being no challenge to the Made Orders, this would complete the statutory process for the scheme and allow us to acquire the land required to build it. Delivery of the scheme can only commence if approved under these relevant statutory authorisation procedures and thereafter a timetable for progress can be set in line with available budgets.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "The First Minister has a very busy diary and unfortunately not all requests to meet can be accommodated.

"As Minister with portfolio responsibility for the A96 Dualling Inverness to Nairn (including Nairn Bypass) the Transport Secretary met Mr Ewing on January 25 to discuss this issue, and has since written with a further update.”

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