Future of A9 and A96 dualling schemes "up for debate" - Transport Scotland

The 3 billion dualling of the A9 is due to be completed by 2025. Picture: Transport Scotland
The 3 billion dualling of the A9 is due to be completed by 2025. Picture: Transport Scotland
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Doubts have been cast over the future of the £6 billion dualling of the A9 and A96 after the Scottish Government's head of roads said today it was "up for debate".

The admission comes after environmental campaigners lobbied ministers to halt the huge road building projects following the SNP administration's declaration of a "climate emergency".

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said in May the A96 dualling was a "huge task but one we are committed to delivering"

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said in May the A96 dualling was a "huge task but one we are committed to delivering"

The £3bn A9 dualling between Perth and Inverness is due to be completed by 2025, with construction of sections underway.

The A96 dualling between Aberdeen and Inverness, also due to cost £3bn, is planned by 2030.

Transport Scotland director of roads Hugh Gillies told the Scottish Parliament's connectivity committee: "All this is up for debate as part of the strategic transport projects review."

He was responding to Scottish Greens transport spokesman John Finnie, who had specifically asked him: "Is there a review of whether we are going to continue with the dualling of the A9 and A96?"

Mr Gillies also told him there was a wider review of other planned new roads.

He said: "The road building programme is under review, and that's through the national transport strategy and the strategic transport projects review, which will be the follow-on, and that will determine where the Scottish Government will take forward its transport infrastructure planning and delivery.

"The road building programme will be taken as part of a consideration of that."

READ MORE: Inside Transport - Is the A9 dual carriageway building timescale realistic?

Mr Finnie said later: “The Scottish Government has been all over the place on how its road building programme will be affected since the First Minister declared a climate emergency.

'These projects may indeed be cancelled after all'

"Greens have repeatedly raised the proposed dualling of the A9 and A96 with the Scottish Government, and while the First Minister has said all government projects are currently under review, both the Deputy First Minister and transport secretary have indicated that the programme will proceed regardless.

"So I’m pleased government officials confirmed at committee that these projects may indeed be cancelled after all.

"It's now time for ministers to match their ‘world leading’ climate rhetoric with actions, consign these major road building projects to the dustbin, and invest in sustainable transport options for the north and north east instead.”

Mid-Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who campaigned for the A9 scheme, said: “I want urgent confirmation from the Scottish Government that they will be continuing with the whole A9 dualling programme.

“Local people ran an energetic campaign for years to get this dangerous road upgraded.

"It would be an absolute betrayal if this policy was dropped now.

“This is primarily a road safety issue - there has been a high death toll on the A9 Perth to Inverness road for many years.

"Lives will be at risk if this programme stops now.”

The Scottish Government's Programme for Government 2019-20 blueprint last month made no mention of the A96 scheme.

But it stated: "We will make further improvements in key transport infrastructure this year, focusing on securing the investment needed to complete the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness."

Ministers have repeatedly stressed they are on track to complete the A9 on schedule.

Transport Scotland said later it remained committed to the projects.

In a statement, its spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, underlining its commitment to connecting Scotland’s cities with a high quality transport system that will sustainable generate economic growth.

“When complete these ambitious programmes will bring many benefits to local communities, businesses, visitors and road users living, travelling and working along the routes.

"These include reduced journey times, improved journey time reliability and, crucially, improve road safety for all users.”

The spokesperson said the strategic transport projects review would "set out the future strategic transport investment priorities for Scotland".

Business backing

The Scottish Council for Development and Industry business group, which has feared pressure from the Greens to abandon the A9 and A96 schemes, said they were vital.

Highlands and Islands director Fraser Grieve said: "The A96 upgrade will unblock the communities along this route, open up land for development, improve active travel [walking and cycling], and provide more efficient and reliable journeys.

"That upgrade, combined with the A9, will finally deliver suitable road connectivity between all of Scotland’s cities.

"We recognise the need to keep projects under review, particularly as we look to respond to climate change, but it’s important that areas aren’t left behind as we do so."

BACKGROUND: £3bn plan to dual A96 unveiled