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KATE FORBES: ‘Net Zero’ must not mean zero work on meeting A9 pledge

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An artist's impression of one of the grade separated junctions on the proposed new section of dual carriageway on the A9 by Tomatin.
An artist's impression of one of the grade separated junctions on the proposed new section of dual carriageway on the A9 by Tomatin.

As the longest road in Scotland, the A9 is our nation’s backbone. The condition of the road isn’t just a rural Highland problem – it is of national importance.

Before we talk about the economic impact of dualling the A9, or even the frustration of driving the road, we must remember the families who are bereaved.

I don’t think there is a Highland family who doesn’t feel a sense of fear and worry when they hear news of another accident. Who will it be this time, we think with trepidation?

Last year, 13 people died on the A9 between Perth and Inverness. Recently, an 18 year old lost his life. The number of fatalities should be a cause for national grief. Many were local residents, people who have driven the road for years.

The A9 is many Highlanders’ commute to work, our route to the shops and our means of meeting friends. I’m not saying it’s the only road, but it remains a national gateway for people, goods and services.

It connects north and south, bringing mutual benefit as Highland goods like food and drink are transported south.

Efforts have been made to quantify the economic benefits.

Back in 2016, Transport Scotland concluded there would be substantial benefits, ranging from additional tax income because more people could access employment opportunities, to lower prices because of a healthier economy.

Highland residents don’t need a comprehensive, official economic analysis to illustrate the value of dualling the A9 – we could list multiple benefits off the top of our head.

There have been blunt suggestions from certain quarters that continued investment in roads is contrary to our climate change ambitions.

Transport is a significant contributor to our national emissions but net zero policies should not penalise the Highlands.

It’s blatantly obvious that rural Scotland relies more heavily on car use but rural Scotland should not disproportionately bear the brunt of Scotland’s transition to net zero.

Cracking down on cars and stopping all road projects without substantial investment in public transport will hinder efforts to bolster population and invest in rural Scotland.

You might be able to cycle to your local shop in the centre of Glasgow but I’d like to see you try in rural Scotland. There might be hourly buses – at worst – in the middle of Edinburgh. In some local communities, you’re lucky if you see one a day.

Between the emerging class of green lairds, the crack down on fossil fuels for off-grid consumers without support to transition and urban-centric views of transport, there is legitimate worry that the Highlands has to go the extra mile (or 80) to compensate for slower progress in urban Scotland.

In that vein, any suggestion that dualling the A9 is incompatible with our climate change targets spectacularly fails to recognise the nature of the Highlands.

The Scottish Government has a target to phase out new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the coming decade. It wants to see more of us going electric. If we are to achieve that, then those electric vehicles will need safe roads and infrastructure – that includes a safer (and more electrified) A9.

Dualling the A9 is, by wide consensus, critical. It’s about saving lives, investing in our future and laying the groundwork for the transition to net zero.

We need to urgently see a new timetable to dual the remain sections – and we need better processes to ensure it happens.

Kate Forbes (SNP) is MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch

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