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NESS NOTEBOOK: The future of trunk roads east, centre and west of Inverness is a major cause for concern

By Ness Notebook: David Sutherland

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A section of A9 south of Inverness.
A section of A9 south of Inverness.

AS the August tourist rush continues in and around Inverness and Nairn, it is a reminder of what an attractive part of the world we live in. But the future of the trunk roads east, centre and west of the city is a major cause for concern.

We recently hosted a family party of 12 from the Arabian Gulf in one of our Ness Castle lodges. They travelled up to Skye and the obligatory Loch Ness safari and were delighted with the scenery and their welcome.

“It is even more wonderful than the photographs,” I was told as they were leaving. “But your roads are surprisingly poor compared to southern Scotland.”

It was a similar story with a group of medical consultants and their wives, who were on a repeat visit. Seeing them off, they raved about the Highlands – but were critical of the quality of main roads.

Reflecting on these comments from otherwise highly satisfied customers, I see problems ahead for Highland tourism, and business generally, if the triple headache of the A9, A96 and A82 are not addressed by Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The promise to dual the A9 now looks in some danger due to the Green Party entering the Scottish Government and pursuing an anti-roads agenda.

Similarly, the Inverness-Aberdeen dualling, including the Nairn bypass, is on hold due to a combination of Green concern and lack of funds.

It would be indeed ironic if the part of Scotland with the finest environment found itself hogtied in transport terms because of environmentalists.

And don’t get me started on the Inverness-Fort William road, long overdue a significant upgrading. Look at the accident rate between Drumnadrochit and the city. The major facelift required is on the back burner because Transport Scotland’s focus is on the A82’s Loch Lomond area.

It’s not all that long ago the Highlands were socially and economically disadvantaged by single-track roads – and there are still some about – when elsewhere enjoyed double track traffic.

Now much of Scotland is dual carriageway, yet our area stands to be disadvantaged once again.

The A9’s enhancement in the past 50 years – including the bridges at Dornoch, Cromarty and Kessock – was triggered because of Dounreay and the oil industry. Strategic decisions were taken at government level which worked in our favour. Now there is the risk of the reverse happening.

It’s not Highland Council’s fault. It has done very well rolling out projects like Inverness’s West Link. But is it time to publicly press the First Minister for action on the area’s trunk roads? The council would only be asking for previously-given commitments to be honoured.

The exclusion of economic benefit from Transport Scotland’s questionnaire on the A96 is a straw in the wind and Inverness Chamber of Commerce has rightly complained. Environmental concerns, it seems, will take priority in the assessment – arguably to the social and business detriment of the Highlands.

Don’t get me wrong, climate change is a major issue and we need to do more to protect our environment. But these roads are our arteries, our connectors for imports and exports, for tourists, and for our own people accessing the south.

Let’s kick up a fuss to show we refuse to be shunted into a lay-by!

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