Work is finally poised to get under way on a project to build a flyover at one of the most notorious traffic bottlenecks in the Highlands.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown revealed yesterday that design and ground preparation for the scheme to end gridlock at the Longman Roundabout in Inverness would begin “almost right away”.
He made the announcement after officially signing the £315million Inverness City Region Deal with Scotland Office Minister Andrew Dunlop and Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson in Invergordon yesterday.
The agreement – which formalises commitments made a year ago – was hailed as having the potential to create “thousands of jobs” and unlock £800million of private sector investment.
Immediately, it will enable the release of the first £12million to draw up detailed plans for a massive new industrial estate at the former Longman landfill site, as well as a new Science Skills Academy, and a new School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
Lord Dunlop said yesterday that the package would help turn the region into “one of the most competitive economies in the UK” – with world-leading businesses that can attract and retain talented young people.
Mr Brown, meanwhile, revealed that the agreement would enable early work to start on the Longman Roundabout revamp, a scheme he described as the “biggest of them all” in the deal.
The Scottish Government has set aside £107million to progress the flyover – known as a “grade separation” and expected to be similar to the Raigmore Interchange – and the new “East Link”, connecting the A9 and A96 between Inshes and Smithton.
Consultations on six options for the East Link were held in August last year, and Mr Brown revealed yesterday that “options work” for the Longman Roundabout were “expected to commence later this year”.
Speaking to the Press and Journal, he said: “There will be the necessary process that you have to go through for roads projects. There will be the design and build element of it.
“There will be the potential for planning processes to go through, that could result in a public local inquiry, so that makes it hard to be definitive as to when construction will actually start.
“But people will see the initial work, in terms of design, happening almost right away. It’s design work, and survey work and ground investigation work, that has to happen first of all.”
The SNP minister added: “I think you’re seeing a transformation in terms of the accessibility to Inverness and from Inverness.”
Transport Scotland confirmed the move last night, saying “it is expected that design work on the grade separation of the A9/A82 Longman Roundabout will start later this year following the appointment of a design consultant”.
The detailed designs are expected to take between 15 and 18 months to prepare.
The flyover would take vehicles crossing the Kessock Bridge up and over a roundabout that has become a notorious pinch-point.
Traffic lights were installed at the roundabout but have proved controversial, with many motorists claiming they have exacerbated the problems.
Mrs Davidson, the local authority leader, welcomed Mr Brown’s comments yesterday, saying: “It will stop the bottlenecks forever. It will keep Inverness moving.”
Last October, Highland Council revealed it had lodged the five business cases, worth about £48million from the City Region Deal.
Yesterday’s agreement paves the way for the release of £12.25million of Scottish and UK Government funding for the first three approved business cases.
UHI has been awarded £9million from the UK Government to establish a custom-built facility on the Inverness Campus to develop work focussed on the digital health sector.
A further £3million has been approved by the Scottish Government towards the business case for the Science Skills Academy (SSA), led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to help engage more young people in the fields of science, technology, engineering, maths, and digital skills.
And there was the first £250,000 of £10million for remedial work at the former Longman landfill site to pave the way for a new industrial estate and more than 2,000 jobs.
UK Government minister Lord Dunlop said: “There are many exciting businesses here, high growth companies.
“This deal is really about giving them the support so we turn the economy of Inverness and the Highlands into one of the most competitive economies in the UK, able to compete internationally as well as in the UK.”
Highland Council convener Isobel McCallum said: “I think there’s just a buzz about the Highlands and this City Region Deal has just added to it.”