A new study reveals that businesses believe the dualling of the A9 – and the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness route – would provide a vital economic boost to the region and transform the fortunes of the north.
Campaigners for dualling the A9 – dubbed the most dangerous road in Scotland – and the A96 claim the study, which was carried out by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) on behalf of government body Transport Scotland, backs their calls for planned improvements to be speeded up. But the Rail Freight Group has criticised the report, claiming it is imbalanced and ignores the benefits of the rail network.
The Scottish Government proposes to dual the A9 from Inverness to Perth by 2025, and the entire length of the A96 by 2030.
A total of 210 businesses in the Highlands and Moray were polled in the study, with the majority expressing fears about the current state of the region’s main trunk routes, claiming they were holding the region’s economic development back.
The A9 was rated as “poor” or “very poor” for safety by 70 per cent of those who responded, with only 1 per cent of businesses claiming to be “very comfortable” driving on it.
SCDI’s Highlands and Islands chairman Michael Urquhart said: “Businesses highlight that the greatest benefits of dualling both the A9 and A96 would be to increase the attractiveness of the north of Scotland for investment, reduce transport costs, improve business confidence and make journeys safer,” he said.
David Richardson, development manager for the Highlands and Islands branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The SCDI’s survey reinforces the message that FSB members have been telling us for years – the A9 and A96 are not fit for purpose and that dualling them will reduce driving times, improve road safety and help combat the Highlands’ distance from key markets, a major barrier to economic growth.”
However, the study was criticised by David Spaven, the Scottish Representative of the Rail Freight Group.
He said: “To look at roads in isolation is a recipe for sub- optimal solutions, whereas a proper cross-modal analysis would enable the optimum mix of road and rail upgrades to be assessed for economic value as well as other key policy outcomes for the environment, climate change and safety.”
MSP Murdo Fraser said: “The findings of this survey highlight why the Scottish Government must fast-track the A9 dualling. The longer we wait the more casualties we will have.”
There were 72 deaths on the A9 between 2005 and 2010, with a further 14 in 2011 and another 10 in 2012.
Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown said: “Dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen will bring many benefits for businesses who use these vital routes to transport goods or to connect with the commercial centres of Perth, Inverness, or Aberdeen and further afield.”