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Multiple A9 deaths sparks furious letter from Fergus Ewing to the transport secretary

By Scott Maclennan

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Fergus Ewing is angry at the wait and the ‘caveated pledge’ he fears that may ‘prove to be worthless.’
Fergus Ewing is angry at the wait and the ‘caveated pledge’ he fears that may ‘prove to be worthless.’

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing has once again been sparked into action on the A9 dualling project by sending a polite but bitterly sceptical letter to transport secretary Fiona Hyslop after another month of deadly car accidents.

March has been the worst month on the A9 for quite some time with three deaths and multiple injuries involving several vehicles that have left devastated families in their wake.

On March 5, 60-year-old Roy Bannerman from Evanton died in a crash near Aviemore, his wife described him as the “love of my life”. On March 12, Nairn man James Noble (30) died while working on the road south of Tore, his death was described as “an absolute tragedy”. And then on March 20, a 90-year-old man died after a collision near Newtonmore.

On Sunday night a 10-year-old girl was left in a critical but stable condition in hospital after a three-vehicle crash north of Dalwhinnie, another girl was also hospitalised but released.

In writing to Ms Hyslop, Mr Ewing outlined his fundamental concerns that the Scottish Government will “renege” on its commitment to the new A9 programme after she admitted it may not be finished by 2035.

Mr Ewing now believes there “is a very serious question mark” over the new A9 programme that was just announced in December because there are “very obvious worries that the Scottish Government will renege on the commitments”.

He argued: “If the Highlands are indeed to become, after nearly a quarter of a century of neglect of major capital spend, a priority then surely the Scottish Government must do better than the caveated pledge made, which may prove to be worthless?

“You will appreciate that the broken promise of the pledge to dual the A9 by 2025 and the separate broken pledge of dualling the A96 by 2030 have caused widespread anger and scepticism.”

His issue with the “caveated pledge” is that the new plan “all remaining sections of the A9 south of Drumochter will be dualled first. The remainder of the Highlands sections – those north of Drumochter pass, must wait till after that.”

But he went on: “Crucially however, each and every one of them is subject to the additional caveat of ‘market conditions’ which means availability of funds. This, you stated, would be considered in 2025 but only in the second half of that year.

“I want to raise an obvious point and one which does not appear to have been dealt with at all. That is this: The capital budget of the Scottish Budget is between four and five billion pounds a year. Over the 10-year period of the completion of the A9, the funding available in total will be between 40 and 50 billion pounds.

“Whatever the precise costs of the dualling may be, these amounts are many, many times over the total costs of the A9 dualling and for that matter the dualling of the A96 between Inverness and Auldearn including the Nairn bypass.”

He called for her to withdraw the caveat to make “the pledge firm and more credible and believable and acknowledging that there are the capital resources available for the job to be done”.

In February, Ms Hyslop said that “there will be challenges” and added: “I think if you’re open with people, they can understand when those challenges do happen.”

Then in comments earlier this month doubt emerged again. She refused to guarantee the 2035 deadline saying that though 2035 “is absolutely the plan” she “obviously, in terms of events, I’m going to be sensible and say ‘things can happen. But we have the most detailed plan that is really ambitious for the people in the communities of the Highlands.”’

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