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'No let up' in A9 dualling project, vows Scottish Government minister in Holyrood committee evidence

By Val Sweeney

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Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan has submitted evidence to Holyrood's A9 inquiry.
Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan has submitted evidence to Holyrood's A9 inquiry.

There will be no let up in the plan to complete the dualling of the A9, Scotland's Transport Secretary has vowed.

In written evidence submitted to an ongoing Holyrood inquiry into the delayed project, Mairi McAllan says the Scottish Government has restated its firm commitment to completing dualling between Perth and Inverness with a clear delivery plan.

It will now be delivered by 2035 – 10 years later than the original 2025 deadline.

Ms McAllan's written statement has been published as the Scottish Parliament’s citizen participation and public participation committee prepares to meet on Wednesday January 24 to hear more evidence from current and former Transport Scotland officials and representatives from the civil engineering industry.

Ms McAllan wrote to the committee directly after providing a statement to the parliament on December 20 setting out the government’s plans.

"The approach I have set out means that the Highlands can have confidence that the considerable benefits of A9 Dualling will be delivered

in full," she states.

"As I noted in my statement, under this delivery plan there will be no let up."

She has been invited to provide oral evidence at the committee's meeting on February 7.

In her statement, Ms McAllan offers "sincere and heartfelt" condolences to the families who have lost a loved one on the A9 or those who have been injured.

She says that having been appointed Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition in March 2023 with transport added to her portfolio in June 2023, her role is focussed on forward planning for completing the dualling programme.

She acknowledges the strength of feeling on the issue and says comprehensive stakeholder engagement on the plan will begin early in the new year.

This will continue regularly including with local communities on individual projects and there will be a full launch of a new A9 Dualling website early in the new year.

Following a change in contracting approach which has been adopted for the Tomatin to Moy part of the project, three contractors have been shortlisted.

Ms McAllan states: "It is expected that award of this contract will take place in early summer 2024 and, with the completed dualling expected to be operational by the end of 2027, subject to no significant impacts through events such as exceptionally adverse weather."

Transport Scotland has also prepared updated total scheme cost estimates for each project with the total cost of the programme now estimated at £3.7 billion at April 2023 prices.

"When adjusted for inflation, that is equivalent to £2.45 billion at April 2008 prices, which is well within the original cost estimate of £3 billion at 2008 prices," Ms McAllan states.

She says publicly-available information on the challenges of the decision-making on capital or resource funding illustrate the significance of the decision, not just on the A9 but in the context of the impact on wider public sector budgets.

"That is not to say Ministers are not prepared to make those difficult decisions but it does serve to show that matters are far from straightforward and various factors must be balanced to get the dualling that we all want in a way that we can afford and that doesn’t prevent us meeting our other needs and ambitions," she states.

"It is important to note that the wider economic environment has been particularly volatile in recent years, and that the assessment of absolute and relative costs set out in earlier papers has had to be updated on a number of occasions to reflect significant changes in market conditions, including recent increases in costs of borrowing."

Dualling is forecast to result in an average of three fewer fatality casualties and six fewer serious injury casualties each year as well as reducing driver stress and journey times for emergency vehicles, It is also expected to limit the need for lengthy diversions.

"The A9 is critical to the movements of freight, business and leisure travellers," Ms McAllan states.

"Dualling improves reliability and reduces average times of journeys by 20 per cent which is a reduction of around 26 minutes for a journey between Perth and Inverness.

"This is transformative for a route that serves 35 per cent of our land mass and carries around 10 per cent of Scotland’s Gross Domestic Product in terms of cargo."

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