YOUR VIEWS: Update on Scottish Government A9 dualling plans
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No reason to celebrate
MSP John Swinney made a contribution to the debate following cabinet secretary Mairi McAllan’s statement to parliament on December 20 in which she announced a delivery plan to complete the dualling of the A9 between Inverness and Perth. Mr Swinney commented that this “builds on the successful completion” of six major capital projects. Construction of four of these (Airdrie Bathgate rail link, M74 Completion, Borders Railway and the Queensferry Crossing) commenced in the period between June 2007 and September 2011. Construction of the other two (M8 Completion and Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route) commenced in early 2015.
It is notable that, putting ferries aside, no major capital project has started since then, highlighting the weakness of the Sturgeon administration when it comes to delivery.
Papers recently released to Holyrood’s Citizen’s Participation and Public Petitions Committee confirm that there was no delivery plan for upgrading the A9. Since 2015 successive transport ministers, including Humza Yousaf, have failed to get to grips with developing a meaningful approach to procurement and funding of the programme. It was this failure that led to the years of delay rather than technical issues, the Covid pandemic, the Ukraine war and all the other excuses that have been put forward.
After 10 months of deliberation, the plan that Ms McAllan has published appears, at last, to have some substance behind it. However, that is no reason to celebrate. This plan should have been in place eight years ago.
Late as it is, the plan is also qualified in that it is “subject to ongoing due diligence and further decision making in late 2025”. This may well turn into another reason for delay.
People in the Highlands are rightly sceptical about this government delivering to this plan and the upgrade of 83 miles of road finally being completed 28 years after it was first announced.
Figures fail to add up on dualling
The Scottish Government’s A9 announcement isn’t a timescale for completion at all – it’s a back door admission that dualling has largely been put on hold again for another seven years.
The transport secretary’s figures for percentage completion by date utterly flatter to deceive, but totally fail to survive even superficial analysis. Expressed differently, what she has projected is progress of less than a meagre 2.4 miles per year until 2030, something over 12.8 miles per year for 203133 and then 8.3 miles per year for 2034 and 2035.
The fact that she has only conceded that “nearly” 50 per cent of a project currently just over one third complete will be done by 2030 then allows further wriggle room to slow work down even further below the snail-like pace estimated for the next seven years.
By then, it’s highly likely that the SNP will have been expelled from office so can harangue a later Scottish Government from the opposition benches for failing to deliver the SNP’s hugely optimistic target for 2031-33. Here, they expect successor administrations to deliver more miles per year for three consecutive years than the SNP did themselves in a decade.
The transport secretary’s statement therefore amounts to a continuing brake on this vital project before passing on a poisoned chalice to the next incumbents or, put more succinctly, continuing to play at politics with the lives of road users and the livelihoods of Highland residents.
Reasons to be positive on A9 programme now
As a dedicated journalist covering the A9 dualling campaign, your recent article in The Inverness Courier (This is not the end of our Dual The A9 campaign, it’s just the beginning, by Sarah Fyfe) caught my attention as I appreciate your commitment to keeping the public informed about this critical infrastructure project.
However, I could not help but notice the tone of scepticism in your writing. Your two points – “This is not the end of our campaign, it’s just beginning” and “The new completion date is still 10 years late, and our scepticism for promises being delivered remains” – reflect a lack of confidence in a positive outcome.
While I understand the frustration of delays and broken promises, I believe it’s essential to balance our concerns with a sense of optimism.
Here are three reasons why I think maintaining a positive outlook is crucial.
1. Momentum Matters. The fact that The Inverness Courier has organised a campaign shows that there is momentum and public support behind the cause. By framing it as a new beginning rather than an end point, we encourage continued engagement and activism. Let us celebrate the progress made so far and use it as a stepping stone toward achieving our ultimate goal.
2. Political Commitment. Humza Yousaf’s commitment to completing the A9 dualling by 2035 is a significant development. While past disappointments may fuel scepticism, we must recognise that political landscapes change, and leaders evolve. By holding our elected representatives accountable and maintaining constructive pressure, we increase the chances of success.
3. Community Resilience. The A9 is not just a road; it’s a lifeline for communities along its route. Dual carriageways enhance safety, connectivity, and economic opportunities. Our collective determination can drive positive change and ensure that promises are fulfilled.
Sarah, I encourage you to continue reporting on the campaign, highlighting both challenges and victories.
Let us channel any scepticism into constructive dialogue, urging decision-makers to prioritise this vital project. Together, our collective voice can make a difference.
Thank you for the Courier’s dedication to keeping the public informed and I look forward to reading more articles on the progress of construction.
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