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PARLIAMENT DEBATE: 'How can we trust you on A9 dualling?' – Highland MSPs go on the attack as new 2035 deadline for completion set

By Alasdair Fraser

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The A9 was originally to have been completely dualled by 2025
The A9 was originally to have been completely dualled by 2025

Broken promises on A9 dualling meant bereaved families and the wider Scottish public could have little trust in the Scottish Government's latest pronouncement on timescales.

That was the attack led by several MSPs – one who accused the SNP administration of blatantly lying in the past over the project – in response to Màiri McAllan’s parliamentary statement today.

BREAKING: New A9 dualling deadline is 2035, says Scottish Government

WATCH: A9 must be 'safe, reliable and resilient as possible – and that’s what the Scottish Government will deliver' says transport secretary

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity of Scotland set a new deadline of 2035 for completion of dual carriageway construction between Inverness and Perth, with 50 per cent to be completed by 2030 and 85 per cent by 2033.

She also said the upgrading of the Tomatin to Moy section would be completed by 2027, with a contract awarded next summer.

Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing, the SNP’s own arch-critic of delays in dualling, said he would remain “sceptical” of new promises until progress was evident.

MSP Fergus Ewing.
MSP Fergus Ewing.

Mr Ewing, who prior to the statement had bumped into an Invernessian who had lost friends to accidents on the A9, said: “That was a salutary reminder of the force behind this campaign.

“Many, including myself, will continue to remain sceptical until they see even the diggers on the road. The statement today, while on the face of it encouraging, involves a huge amount of work ahead.

“There must be no more slippage, no more delays and no more broken promises.”

Highland Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro-Johnston said there could be no trust in the timetable when the public “had been lied to so many times before”.

He said: “Time and time again SNP Ministers have come to this chamber (saying) that the A9 will be dualled in full between Inverness and Perth by the promised 2025 date.

“That was despite all evidence being to the contrary. We now know that, since 2018, they were not being honest.

Jamie Halcro Johnston.
Jamie Halcro Johnston.

“The Scottish Government knew – because officials told them – that the 2025 completion date was unachievable.

“But it wasn’t until last year – nearly 5 years later – that SNP ministers finally came clean.

“So can I ask the Cabinet Secretary – how can local businesses, those who live along the route of the A9, and those who’ve lost loved ones on the road, trust this government to finally deliver?”

Rhoda Grant, regional Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “The announcement that one section will be dualled in the next four years is not going to pacify the anger of my constituents due to lack of progress.

“The Government knew it was not going to meet this 2025 promise, yet tried to hide that.”

MSP Rhoda Grant.
MSP Rhoda Grant.

Another Conservative, Highland MSP Edward Mountain, asked: “Considering the Government’s record, how can Scots believe they can only deliver a miserable seven miles a year of dualling to complete this project by 2035?”

And Labour MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife Alex Rowley said: “The SNP first committed to dual the A9 in 2007.

“Today, 16 years on - and excuse, after excuse, after excuse later - the Cabinet Secretary expects us to be happy that by 2030, 23 years after the 2007 commitment, they will have completed less than 50 per cent of this project.

“One has to wonder how on earth can the Cabinet Secretary say with a straight face that the Highlands can have confidence that the A9 dualling programme will be delivered and in full?

“Does the Cabinet Secretary even have the confidence this Government is capable of delivering infrastructure projects of this scale?”

But Perthshire North SNP MSP John Swinney pointed to the successful completion of large capital infrastructure projects including the Queensferry Crossing, the M74 completion, the M8 completion, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route completion, the Airdrie to Bathgate railway, and Borders railway.

And Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch said: “Just a matter of weeks ago, the Tories said dualling the A9 would take a century, so I’ve never been more thankful that the (Cabinet Secretary) is in charge with an updated deadline of 2035 and not them.

“But can I also pay tribute to the Highlanders who have waited patiently for the A9 to be dualled and their spokespeople, not least the Inverness Courier, who are here today.

MSP Kate Forbes.
MSP Kate Forbes.

“Certainty really matters and in order to restore trust, we have to keep communities regularly informed so that there are no surprises.”

Responding to Tory and Labour criticism, as well as Mr Ewing’s “scepticism”, Ms McAllan stressed: “It was not until late 2022 that Transport Scotland knew for certain that the 2025 date was not deliverable.

“This Government has a proud history of delivering a plethora of major projects. I have absolute confidence, but I’m not complacent.

“That’s why I’ve been determined to spend time finding all the ways possible to increase certainty in this project.

“Now we have reached this point, there will be no let-up.

“Under this plan, this rolling delivery programme, we will see continual construction until the route is finished.

“I attended an event over the summer organised by the Inverness Courier where we were joined by family members of the bereaved.

“I can assure Fergus Ewing and the chamber that experience will never leave me.”

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