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Highland business community represented at The Inverness Courier A9 Crisis Summit

By Rachel Smart

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Colin Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Colin Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay..

The business community was represented at The Inverness Courier A9 Crisis Summit, with the chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce stating that “our connectivity is simply not good enough” and that is harming Highland businesses.

Colin Marr, the new Chamber boss, provided a summary of the problems facing business sectors, including tourism, food, farming, health, construction and manufacturing due to the Scottish Government's broken promise to dual the notorious road by 2025.

Mr Marr represented the worry employers have for their employees driving the road by reading words said to him by an anonymous chamber member.

He said: “Worry is summed up perfectly by the business owner who said ‘as I get older, and the gulf increases in age between myself and younger members of the team, I find myself increasingly worrying for their wellbeing while driving on the A9’.

“We all probably share a bit of that worry – whether it is about our employees or our family members – and I don’t believe it’s a burden shared by the rest of Scotland.”

Mr Marr also pointed to the reputation of the road, saying that people are put off from coming to the Highlands and doing business in the region.

“Tourists find other places where their journey doesn’t include a 'dangerous road',” he said.

“Businesses can be reluctant to locate here, and staff are reluctant to work here, because of the perception of how hard it is to get to anywhere else.”

Mr Marr warned that there is ‘a serious danger’ that Scotland will continue to miss its net zero targets if the A9 is not sorted out.

He said: “It’s often said by Government, that Scotland can’t reach its net zero targets without the Highlands.

“Whether that’s wind energy, battery storage or hydrogen, most of it is going to happen here. And sorting the A9 is crucial for that – not only for the transport of supplies, but because of the perception of that road and the barrier it's causing to business growth – including our ability to attract the staff we need to these essential new industries.”

From left: Rob Galbraith (Transport Scotland), Colin Marr and Fergus Ewing. Picture: Callum Mackay
From left: Rob Galbraith (Transport Scotland), Colin Marr and Fergus Ewing. Picture: Callum Mackay

He called on the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to provide a credible plan for the A9, including a section-by-section target, detailing design, procurement, and start and completion dates.

To hold a level of accountability he also offered cabinet minister Mairi McAllan the opportunity to be part of a local working group that would ensure that the Government keeps its promise.

He said: “I want to see a working group set up locally to oversee the A9 development and a commitment from Transport Scotland to be up here every quarter, telling us about that progress. I’m very happy to chair that meeting for you.”

Ms McAllan said that “she would consider it” and agreed that transparency and understanding progress is important to the programme.

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