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Nairn community leaders call for Scottish Government urgency – and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visit – on town bypass as traffic gridlock worsens

By Alasdair Fraser

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Councillors Liz Macdonald and Laurie Fraser. Picture: Callum Mackay
Councillors Liz Macdonald and Laurie Fraser. Picture: Callum Mackay

Concerned community leaders are urging the Scottish Government to treat the long-awaited Nairn bypass as a matter of urgency in its spending plans.

Nairn’s Highland councillors have issued an invitation to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to visit the town to see the impact of traffic gridlock for herself.

They have also written an open letter to the region’s MSPs seeking their support and outlining “deep concerns” about the impact of traffic congestion, citing fatalities in recent years and saying the community is suffering on a daily basis.

They have stepped up their calls following a power-sharing deal at Holyrood between the SNP and the Greens.

A draft joint policy programme maintains a commitment to building a bypass around Nairn and dualling the A96 between Inverness and Nairn but plans to upgrade the rest of the trunk road are to be subject to a review by the end of 2022, which will include a climate compatibility assessment.

Nairn’s four representatives on Highland Council – Councillors Tom Heggie, Laurie Fraser, Liz Macdonald and Peter Saggers – are now lobbying politicians for the bypass to be a priority.

Cllr Heggie said he and his colleagues are seeking an absolute assurance the project is still going ahead and that it is highlighted in the government’s capital investment programme due to be drawn up in the next few months.

“We want it to be in the next round of budget setting which is happening soon,” he said.

“We want it to be a matter of priority. We want Edinburgh to know what needs to be done north of Perth.”

Cllr Heggie said everything was in place for the project after ministers gave the go-ahead earlier this year to complete the statutory procedures for the A96 dualling Inverness-Nairn, including the bypass, following a public local inquiry.

The letter states: “We believe the plans are on the cusp of being implemented and we would urge our local representatives and others within national government to ensure they are developed as soon as possible.

“Our community is suffering on a daily basis and the completion of the bypass will improve the quality of life of our citizens, enable more efficient delivery of services locally and also enhance our safety, health and wellbeing.”

Councillors Liz Macdonald, Laurie Fraser and Tom Heggie. Picture: Callum Mackay
Councillors Liz Macdonald, Laurie Fraser and Tom Heggie. Picture: Callum Mackay

In setting out a range of arguments, the councillors say local businesses are severely affected by the gridlock due to heavy traffic flows and they also cite the establishment of “rat runs” used by motorists to bypass traffic jams on the main A96.

They acknowledge a move away from fossil fuels but maintain this does not automatically mean reducing the need for vehicles using alternative fuels to sustain commerce, culture and a rural way of life in the area.

The letter continues: “Nairn is a hub for tourism and the easing of traffic flows in the town centre would enhance its attractiveness and promote footfall.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it would take forward a transport enhancements programme on the A96 corridor which would improve connectivity between surrounding towns, tackle congestion and address safety and environmental issues.

“The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen,” she said.

“We agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review to include a climate compatibility assessment to assess direct and indirect impacts on the climate and the environment. This will report by the end of 2022.

“Work on other trunk roads projects and programmes under construction, design, development or procurement will continue and be subject to the normal statutory assessment and business case processes.

“Future investment in our transport network will be set out in the second strategic transport projects review and will align with the sustainable mode and investment hierarchies.”

Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing, who said he regularly pressed the case in parliament, was pleased his party’s pledge to deliver the project had been confirmed, following the co-operation agreement with the Greens.

“I am fully in support of the councillors’ arguments, and would love to see the First Minister visit Nairn, accepting the invite from the elected representatives who understand only too well the impacts the heavy congested traffic has on the town and residents,” he said.

Regional Tory MSP Edward Mountain said: “My party and I wholeheartedly support the need for a Nairn bypass and I welcome Cllr Heggie’s efforts to seek an absolute assurance from the First Minister on this issue.

“Those who have lived and worked in the Highlands for many years will know how much this bypass is desperately needed.

“The SNP-Green coalition of chaos have already backed away from some of their election pledges – the Nairn bypass must not be dropped as a priority too.”

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