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Questions raised as Tomatin-Moy dualling section will take six months longer than thought

By Scott Maclennan

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Fergus Ewing A9 at the Carrbridge turn off. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Fergus Ewing A9 at the Carrbridge turn off. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Questions are being asked why the First Minister, transport secretary and the transport minister failed to clarify the record about fresh delays to the procurement of the Tomatin-Moy section of dualling.

In a February statement, then transport minister Jenny Gilruth stated that work was under way ‘with the firm aim of achieving a contract award before the end of this year’.

Last week, it was revealed that no contract is likely to be awarded before the summer of 2024 and work therefore is unlikely to conclude before 2027 at the earliest.

The statement from Transport Scotland read: “It is anticipated that the contract will be awarded in early Summer 2024 and the project is expected to take around three years to build.”

Critics of the Scottish Government’s handling of the dualling seized on the discrepancy to argue that it illustrates poor faith on the part of the government whose members should have been crystal clear in parliament.

Despite the rumoured threat of losing the SNP whip hanging over his head, Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing remained undaunted in either his criticism of government secrecy or its A9 failures.

“It was welcome news that the re-tender of the dualling of the Tomatin to Moy section of the A9 was eventually going ahead, when the First Minister announced last Tuesday September 5, his Programme for Government.

“However, what he chose not to reveal then, was that this work is now delayed yet further – by about six months at least.

“Neither he nor Transport Minister, Fiona Hyslop, nor Cabinet Secretary Mairi McAllan told Parliament what they all knew: that the previous promise that the tender award would be made before the end of this year, has also been broken. And that promise was repeated by Transport Scotland since then, in the Petitions Committee hearing on June 14. So, that promise has now been quietly ditched, in the hope that no one would actually notice.

“It is sad that Parliament was not informed first as it should be, and that this information was not openly provided to MSPs.

“Obviously the yet further delay is a fresh embarrassment to the Scottish Government and that is plainly why they chose not to mention this in Parliament on the two occasions that they had to do so.

“People in the Highlands are fed up with being treated as stupid by the Scottish Government on the A9. They want candour – openness and honesty – and unless that is the Scottish Government approach, mistrust and scepticism will remain the order of the day.”

He added: “I will therefore now ask both the Cabinet Secretary and Minister, in writing first why there is this additional delay of six months.

“Second, why the further delay has arisen and third when we are to get the much trailed detailed statement, promised ‘in the autumn’. Are they waiting for the last leaf to fall from the last tree?”

A 2050 completion date 'pie in the sky' at this pace

Kincraig A9 dualling campaigner Laura Hansler said: "Already a years delay has cost the tax payer a potential £35million pounds, it is utterly unacceptable. And it would now appear that our calculations of 2050 for having the remaining promised nine sections dualled will prove to be nothing but pie in the sky, if this recent development is to be an example ..

"It is also to be remembered other promises made in this Autumnal golden carrot was the 'hope' to have a revised timetable for the remaining nine sections, not only have we no indication as to when this amazing announcement may actually happen, but I categorically have no “hope” let alone faith that we will gleen any true indication or intention of the road forward.

"They say talk is cheap, some being quite glib as they speak of the A9, but in this case it is proving to be incredibly expensive, whilst I watch these numerous promises being made and repeatedly broken, people are paying with their lives."

'Maximise market interest'

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “During the statement to parliament on the Programme for Government on 5 September, the First Minister confirmed the formal commencement of a new procurement for the dualling of the A9 between Tomatin and Moy.

“On the same date, the cabinet secretary for transport, net zero & just transition updated Parliament via a letter to the net zero, energy and transport committee on the procurement for the A9 Dualling: Tomatin to Moy project including the updated timeline for contract award.

“Since the last update given to Parliament on 8 February 2023, Transport Scotland has consulted extensively with contractors to inform the development of a new contract for the new procurement with the aim of attracting more competition.

“We have also made our procurement process as efficient as possible, resulting in a much shorter procurement timescale than we would usually run for this type of project. It is anticipated that this new process will enable the earliest possible contract award to be made in early Summer 2024.

“Whilst this timetable is longer that originally outlined in February of this year, it was only right that sufficient time was taken to develop a new contract in a robust manner both to maximise market interest in the new procurement and to ensure the new terms and conditions do not lead to unintended consequences affecting value for Scottish taxpayers.

“By confirming to Parliament both the date of the opening of the procurement, and the earliest date by which we hoped it would complete, namely early summer 2024, ministers have been clear on anticipated time lines for the contract.”

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