WATCH: ‘At long last we have an announcement of an outline plan and that is welcome’
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Any hope that issuing a new 2035 A9 deadline would curtail veteran MSP Fergus Ewing’s blistering criticism of his own party and government was a forlorn one as he still has questions.
Speaking to the Courier just minutes after the ministerial statement by the transport secretary, Mr Ewing he did say “we have to be ready, in life, to accept victory.”
Though he seemed glad that there is a new timeline at the same time wary or to use his own word "sceptical" about it.
He said: “2035 is when I thought it would be. It is 10 years too late but frankly, you know, maybe we did over-promise and we certainly have under-delivered and let's not make any bones about that.”
But there was recognition that while 2035 is better than feared it remains ambitious and he is keen to avoid any further delays, any further disappointment and most of all minimising fatal road accidents.
Trust, he said, will remain an issue but “if they deliver what they've set out then I very much hope to be there at the cutting of the ribbon and the completion of the dualling of the final section of the A9.”
Mr Ewing said: “At long last we have an announcement of an outline plan and that is welcome but many people in the Highlands, many Courier readers, will be of the view that until they see diggers on the road they will mean to be convinced, and I remain sceptical.
“But I do welcome the fact that at long last there is a plan. Yes, far too late. But there is now a plan. And the point I stressed to the minister is that there cannot be any more delays, any more slippage from that plan, or any more broken promises.
“2035 is when I thought it would be. It is 10 years too late but frankly, you know, maybe we did over-promise and we certainly have under-delivered and let's not make any bones about that.
“I would have liked to hear a little more apology about that, actually, a bit more owning up to all the delays and slippages which, of course, caused people to be so angry in the Highlands.
“And many people who have lost loved ones in the road, is a chap I spoke to on the way into the chamber this afternoon just by chance will remain deeply angry about the lack of progress.
“There are a number of serious practical issues, which weren't gone into but need to be considered like the capacity of the industry, the people available – are there enough engineers, project managers available?
“And also the profit margins – are they sufficient to attract civil engineering companies and competitive bids when there's so much other competing work available such as pump storage grid work, onshore and offshore wind and rail electrification?
“So traditionally it's been very low profit margins. Are they going to change that in order to make sure that we get companies coming forward to do the work.
“But they have – at long last, two and a half years into this session of parliament and 15 years after the promises were first made – come up with a plan so my job as the local constituency MSP campaigning for three decades of this, in fact, is to hold their feet to the fire.”
Asked if he thinks this will be enough to re-earn or secure the trust of people in the Highlands?
Mr Ewing said: “No. I think many people will give them another chance but they are really in the last chance saloon, it's not sufficient in itself, because many people will simply say we've heard it all before.
“But we have to be ready, in life, to accept victory. If they deliver what they've set out then I very much hope to be there at the cutting of the ribbon and the completion of the dualling of the final section of the A9.”