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Government accused of failing to give an ‘honest answer’ on the future of the A9 and A96 dualling projects

The SNP Government is being accused of failing to give the public an “honest answer” on the future of the A9 and A96 road dualling projects.

Ever since the SNP and the Greens entered into a power-sharing pact at Holyrood, concerns have been raised about the long-term plans to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen.

On Wednesday, former government minister Fergus Ewing called on the administration to spell out a firm commit to both the road projects – but got a “non-answer” in return.

The Scottish Conservatives, who piled on the pressure, said the response in parliament leaves a question mark over the government’s previous promises.

Ewing asks for government commitment

Mr Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, had been part of the SNP government which had initially approved these two major infrastructure projects.

After the SNP-Green cooperation deal in summer, he had told constituents the government remained committed to both.

Fergus Ewing MSP

In parliament he asked: “Can the minister provide reassurance to me and my constituents in Inverness and Nairn that this statement does not, and will not in any way, manner or means, delay, detract, diminish or dilute the absolute commitment of this government to deal with the remaining sections of the A9 between Perth and Inverness and sections of the A96 from Inverness to Auldearn and to do so as swiftly as possible?”

The response from Tom Arthur, minister for public finance, planning and community wealth, did not refer to either the A9 or the A96 dualling.

He spoke about the “hierarchy” of the road, and reiterated the government’s aim to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030 to help meet carbon reduction targets.

Mr Arthur did however note there will continue to be the need for car use, and therefore the focus will be on rolling out electric vehicles in the coming years.

Government not being ‘honest’ with public

The Scottish Conservatives say this lack of commitment is a direct threat to both jobs and investment in the Highlands and in the north-east.

Jamie Halcro Johnston, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “I listened with dismay to the minister’s non-answer to Fergus Ewing’s extremely blunt question on whether the SNP are still committed to dualling the A9 and A96 as planned.

Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP

“Give his non-answer to me too, it’s clear that the price of the SNP’s coalition with the Greens is what we have all feared – that the A9 and A96 dualling will not be completed as promised.

“The north of Scotland desperately needs these infrastructure upgrades if it is to have any chance of creating new jobs needed to provide a future for its young, talented people.

“If it is indeed the intention of the SNP to renege on its commitments, then it is disgraceful that it is failing to be honest with local people about those plans.

“The issue will not go away and I will keep pressing SNP ministers about their intentions for the A9 and A96 until we get an honest answer from them.”

In response to Mr Halcro Johnston’s comments in the debating chamber, Mr Arthur only said: “There is no change to the government policy.”

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