First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has sparked concerns over further delays to dualling the A9 after appearing to confuse the £3 billion upgrade with another major road project.
The SNP leader provoked anger from regular A9 users when she said in an interview with the BBC broadcast on November 26 that completion of the A9 would involve further “climate assessments”.
But it has now emerged the First Minister was actually referring to dualling work on the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen.
The plan to fully dual the A96 route is subject to a “climate compatibility assessment”.
Why did Nicola Sturgeon’s comments cause a problem?
Murdo Fraser is the Conservative MSP for the Mid Scotland and Fife region.
He said the First Minister’s comments on the A9 in the interview with the BBC’s Glenn Campbell on Friday November 26 had “cast fresh doubt” on the future of the dualling project.
He said: “For a First Minister who is usually so much in command of detail, this is a worrying slip.
“It is not surprising that there is so much concern over the future of these vital infrastructure projects when even the First Minister can’t get her facts straight.
“We are still no nearer knowing whether the A9 dualling will be completed by 2025. The date originally promised by the SNP.
“For so long as this remains in doubt there will be questions over whether this road improvement will ever be delivered.”
BBC Scotland political editor Glenn Campbell asked the First Minister two questions about the SNP’s commitment to roads building.
In the second, he is broadcast asking: “I literally asked you about the A9 and whether you were still committed to dualling it along its full length by the end of 2025”
Ms Sturgeon is shown replying: “We’ve set that out clearly. We’ve committed to early parts of that.
“We’ll do climate assessments as we go further down that road. Our commitment hasn’t changed on that.”
How did the apparent error emerge?
The error emerged when we asked Scottish Government officials for further detail on the climate assessments.
We wanted to know if the assessments could create further delays. We also asked why – given the advanced state of the A9 project – climate assessments had not been previously completed in full.
Scottish Government officials believe there had been an honest element of confusion during the interview.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the climate compatibility assessment relates specifically to the A96, not the A9.
He said: “The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen.
Just listening to @GlennBBC interview with @NicolaSturgeon where she says that the A9 dualling project will have a ‘climate assessment’. Yet more doubt & confusion over a vital road safety project for Perthshire and the Highlands.
— Murdo Fraser (@murdo_fraser) November 26, 2021
“We agree to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review to include a climate compatibility assessment to assess direct and indirect impacts on the climate and the environment.
“This will report by the end of 2022.”
Colin Howden is director of sustainable transport group Transform Scotland. He watched the broadcast of the interview.
He said: ““In the interview, the First Minister referred to ‘2025′, which is the intended completion date for the A9 dualling.
“The A96 has usually been spoken about as a ‘2030’ completion date – so if she did misspeak then it was doubly confused.”
The First Minister’s official spokesman said the Scottish Government is fully committed to dualling the entire stretch of the A9.
“The Scottish Government is pressing ahead with dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness, as planned.
“That commitment is clear and no one should be duped by Tory attempts to muddy the waters.”
Why is the future of the A9 dualling project under scrutiny?
Business leaders have been pushing for the Scottish Government to signal a greater public commitment and clearer timeline for completing the dual carriageway.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to completing the project by 2025 has recently come under renewed scrutiny.
Critics have been watching closely since the SNP entered into a co-operation deal with the Scottish Greens, even though ongoing roads projects are protected in the agreement.
Environment campaigners have questioned completing the dualling project in its entirety while trying to hit carbon reduction goals.
Domestic transport is currently the largest source of net emissions in Scotland.