SNP ‘betraying’ Highlands by breaking pledge to upgrade ‘killer’ A9 road
Nicola Sturgeon’s government has been accused of betraying the Highlands after admitting that Scotland’s “killer” road will not now be upgraded to a dual carriageway by 2025.
The delay is likely to threaten the First Minister’s electoral hopes as several key SNP seats border the A9, Scotland’s busiest tourist route, with one of her former ministers warning that the postponement would lead to “shock, incredulity and anger” in the Highlands.
It is the country’s most dangerous road, claiming the lives of 13 people last year, and the entire 112-mile stretch between Perth and Inverness was due to be dualled.
However, the work will now not proceed until a new schedule is produced in six months’ time, leading to claims from the opposition that more people will now die on the road.
Jenny Gilruth, the SNP’s transport minister, told MSPs that upgrading the road by the target date was now “unachievable”.
She blamed a variety of factors, including the Covid pandemic, Brexit and the war in Ukraine, and pledged to provide a new timescale in the autumn for the project’s completion.
Ms Gilruth also announced that the dualling of one section, between Tomatin and Moy in Inverness-shire, had been delayed as the contract for the work had to be retendered.
She said only one bid had been received that was “significantly higher than expected” and she had been forced to conclude it would not represent “best value for the taxpayer”.
However, the Scottish Tories said Ms Gilruth “could tell us nothing about progress or a timetable for completing the remaining sections, no details, no timescales, no hope, just empty words repeated over and over about ‘an unwavering commitment’”.
Murdo Fraser, the party’s shadow Covid recovery secretary, warned that more drivers would die on the road while “this SNP promise is not delivered”.
Labour accused the minister of “a total betrayal of the Highlands” and argued it was “shameful” for her to blame the situation in Ukraine on the day that Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, visited Britain.
Fergus Ewing, a former Cabinet minister in Ms Sturgeon’s government, said that Ms Gilruth’s statement would be met with “shock, incredulity and anger”.
Since the SNP’s 2011 promise to dual the entire road between Perth and Inverness by 2025, only two sections totalling 11 miles have been completed, with more than 70 miles still to go.
Last year, 13 people were killed on the road, the highest total for 20 years. The A9 Safety Group said that 77 per cent of all fatal and serious accidents on the road occurred on single-carriageway sections.
However, questions have previously been raised about the SNP’s commitment to the scheme after Ms Sturgeon invited the Scottish Greens to join her government.
Ms Gilruth told MSPs that the 2025 completion target had always been “an ambitious challenge” that relied on a range of factors, which had been “significantly impacted” by events.
She said: “This has made this 2025 date simply unachievable. Transport Scotland is urgently considering a range of different options to provide ministers advice on the most efficient way in which to dual the remaining sections.”
Ms Gilruth said she expected to receive that advice by the autumn, when she will update MSPs on a new deadline, and insisted the Scottish Government remained “absolutely committed” to completing the programme.
The minister said she had asked Transport Scotland to restart the tendering process for the Tomatin to Moy section, with a new contract awarded by the end of the year. Changes could be made to the agency’s terms and conditions to encourage more bidders.
However, Mr Fraser said that communities along the A9 in Perthshire and the Highlands had been waiting more than a decade for Holyrood to meet its dualling pledge, but barely 10 miles of road had been upgraded.
“Last year 12 people lost their lives on single-carriageway sections of the A9. More will die this year, and next, and the one after, as this SNP promise is not delivered,” he said.
Rhoda Grant, a Labour Highlands and Islands MSP, said: “This is a total betrayal of the Highlands and yet another broken election promise. Lives are being lost on this dangerous road while communities go without the upgrades they have waited years for.”
However, the Scottish Greens said their power-sharing deal with the SNP committed both parties to “addressing and tackling safety concerns” and argued this should be given a higher priority than the dualling programme.
Mark Ruskell, the party’s transport spokesman, said: “When I speak to local communities along the A9, the message is clear: they want us to improve dangerous junctions and reduce speeds.
“I welcome the minister’s emphasis on road safety. It needs to be taken seriously and prioritised ahead of dualling every last inch of the road, which will come at an astronomical cost and be likely to increase traffic and pollution.”