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Inverness Chamber of Commerce cites Scottish Government's 'lack of commitment' on A9 dualling for unnecessary deaths and damage to Highland economy

By Alasdair Fraser

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Mairi McAllan announced the A9 dualling deadline has been set to 2035
Mairi McAllan announced the A9 dualling deadline has been set to 2035

A “lack of commitment” on dualling the A9 lies at the heart of a failure that led to avoidable loss of life and damaged the growth potential of the Highlands.

That is the damning assessment by Inverness Chamber of Commerce given in evidence to the Holyrood committee leading the inquiry into the missed deadline for upgrading the Inverness to Perth route.

The local business network tabled the scathingly critical submission as the latest contribution to the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee’s inquiry into the A9 dualling programme.

The Scottish Government had previously made a clear commitment to complete dualling of the A9, as per its initial 2011 pledge, by 2025.

Since 2011, more than 100 people have died in accidents on the road, while more than 330 have perished in total since 1979.

Against a significant weight of criticism, late last year Màiri McAllan, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, revised the timescale for upgrading the remaining 83 miles of carriageway to a 2035 deadline.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce’s new chief executive Colin Marr, who took his place on the panel of the Inverness Courier A9 crisis summit in July last year, firmly believes the original timetable would have been achievable with strength of conviction.

His organisation’s submission states: “The Scottish Government made a clear commitment to complete the dualling of the A9 by 2025. It is our view that the primary reason for failing to meet this deadline was a lack of commitment.

“We can’t know whether that lack of commitment was from government ministers or from officials at Transport Scotland, but there is sufficient expert evidence to support the notion that the original timetable was achievable.

“The lack of commitment has been exacerbated by procurement methods that sought to pass an unreasonable level of risk to contractors.

“Lack of progress has limited the growth potential of Highland businesses and has, almost certainly, led to loss of life that could have been avoided.”

Colin Marr.
Colin Marr.

Emphasising its role as a voice for the broader Highland business community, the chamber noted that “the whole community served by the A9 feels let down” by the lack of Scottish Government commitment to complete dualling by 2025.

It collated comments about dualling the A9 from across sectors including tourism, food, farming, health, construction, and manufacturing.

The submission splits the themes of those responses into three broad categories – reality, perception and worry – highlighting how the current state of the route and its bad reputation damages the region’s economy.

It says that the reality is that the journey time from Inverness to the central belt is too long, with rail services longer than travel by car, creating an over-reliance on the A9 for goods, staff and tourists.

Equally, the submission argues that the A9’s bad reputation means “people are put off from coming here and from doing business with us". "Tourists find other places where their journey doesn’t include a 'dangerous road'" and businesses and staff "can be reluctant to locate here”.

It also argued that the route inflicted a burden of worry upon people about the safety of family members and staff members not felt so acutely in other parts of Scotland.

The submission adds: “Connectivity to and across the Highlands is simply not good enough.

“As well as the A9, we also have sub-standard rail connections between Inverness and Glasgow and Edinburgh, and poor connectivity by road and rail across the Highlands and to Aberdeen.

“This means that Highland businesses cannot always reach their full potential.”

The submission also pointed to the risk that the A9 could limit the potential benefits of the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport.

It also voiced backing for the creation of a national memorial to victims of A9 road accidents “if, and only if” it was supported by bereaved relatives.

It concluded that the Scottish Government had to work to regain the confidence of the Highland business community by publishing regular updates on progress on the A9 project and on interim safety measures.

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