Scottish business chiefs lobbied SNP ministers to urge them to find the cash to dual the A9 and part of the A96 within the next five years, we can reveal.
Liz Cameron, director and chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC), wrote to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to ask her to use her upcoming spending plan to provide “greater clarity” and a “clearer timetable” for the long-awaited schemes.
She suggested the two projects should be the top priorities for capital funding.
Ms Cameron said the government should aim to complete the dualling of the A9 between Inverness and Perth by the end of the current parliament, alongside at least the first section of the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness.
She was among a number of senior figures to contact the Scottish Government seeking clarity about the infrastructure projects.
They were put in doubt by the SNP’s cooperation agreement with the Greens in August.
Correspondence released under freedom of information laws shows serving minister Richard Lochhead, the Moray MSP, contacted Transport Minister Graeme Dey the day before the deal was announced, to say the dualling would “undoubtedly have
a positive impact locally in many respects”.
Why are the A9 and A96 schemes in doubt?
Former Cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn, has also written to ministers more than once on the subject of the A9 and A96, as has Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, local councillors, and members of public.
Even before the cooperation agreement, doubts were raised about meeting the original targets for completing the A9 and A96 dualling by 2025 and 2030 respectively.
The Scottish Government’s latest infrastructure investment plan envisaged just £20 million of the £3 billion A96 project being spent between now and 2025/26.
Further uncertainty followed the SNP’s deal with the Greens, which featured a pledge to review the A96 dualling, including a “climate compatibility assessment”.
Meanwhile, ministers had previously said they would provide an update this summer on the “next steps” for work to dual the remaining sections of the A9 between Inverness and Perth, but the results of its procurement strategy review are still to be announced.
In her letter to Ms Forbes on September 15, Ms Cameron told the finance secretary that completion of the two schemes was “crucial” to the local and national economies.
‘Businesses are seeking greater clarity’
She said: “Businesses that use the A9 and A96 are seeking greater clarity from the Scottish Government over what the funding for the projects will look like in the upcoming Scottish Budget and for more detail on progress.
“SCC believe that the application of capital funding in the next budget should be prioritised towards these two projects with a view to completion of the A9 dualling between Perth and Inverness before the end of this parliament and also at a minimum the completion of the first section of the A96.
“Through the prioritisation of these projects by the Scottish Government this should generate a clearer timetable for completion of the works which would be incredibly helpful to businesses and industry, supporting their ability to plan ahead and invest across the regions.
“Secondly a clearer route map for completion would also reassure the public that the Scottish Government remain committed to the projects which will boost economic development and help meet the increasing pressures on both routes through the uptick in domestic tourism.”
Ms Forbes will publish the 2022/23 Scottish Budget and the Holyrood government’s medium term financial strategy on December 9.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said work was continuing along the A9 route, with dualling already in place between Kincraig and Dalraddy, and Luncarty and the Pass of Birnam.
“Design work for the rest of the programme is progressing, and the statutory process is well under way for seven of the remaining eight sections. That is our commitment,” she said.
‘The situation is very clear’
On the A96, the spokeswoman added: “We are also committed to delivering improvements for the north and the east of Scotland along the A96 corridor.
“We will take forward an enhancements programme that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion and addresses safety and environmental issues.
“Alongside that, we will carry out a transparent evidence-based review of the A96 corridor which will report by the end of 2022. That is sensible good governance for major investment of that level.
“The situation is very clear. The commitment remains to address those issues and the dualling aspect is subject to the review.
“We remain committed to making much-needed improvements on the A96. Development work has already been undertaken that will not go to waste.”