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‘They have reneged on a promise to the Highlands’: A9 campaigner fears dualling plan will not go ahead

A consultation into the trunk road plan was launched in Kincraig by the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee.

The consultation was launched in Kincraig. Image Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
The consultation was launched in Kincraig. Image Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

A leading A9 safety campaigner says she fears the trunk road between Perth and Inverness will never be fully dualled.

First Minister Humsa Yousaf has given a “cast iron guarantee” to dual the route following delays to the project.

It follows former transport minister Jenny Gilruth revealing earlier this year the long-promised upgrade would no longer be completed by 2025.

So far no completion date has been revealed, although an announcement to parliament is expected on the overall programme in autumn.

But Laura Hansler has cast doubt on the new promise.

What is happening with A9 dualling?

She says she has been told by a contact in the construction industry that the dualling can be done by 2033-35.

“I believe the people I’m getting the information from in the construction industry. Whether Transport Scotland take that forward and that is achievable right now I don’t know.

“But I fully expect a partial or full withdrawal of the dualling plans from the autumn announcement.

“I said it from the get-go they will renege. There is lack of faith and lack of trust now.

“They have reneged on a promise to the Highlands. It’s completely disrespectful to the people here and a complete betrayal. The trust has gone.

“The first minister said its a cast iron guarantee and I say that’s got a good chance of going rusty.

“When they actually start cutting soil we’ll start believing them.”

Laura Hansler belives the commitment to dual will not be met<br />Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Ms Hansler was speaking at the launch of an A9 consultation today in Kincraig by the Scottish Parliament’s citizen participation and public petitions committee.

It follows the submission of her petition calling on the Scottish Government to deliver its commitment and address safety concerns on the trunk road.

The government is being urged to publish a revised timetable for dualling the remaining single carriageway sections.

The petition also calls for a national memorial to commemorate those who have lost their lives on the road.

Public must use the consultation

Ms Hansler and other members of the A9 Dual Action Group were joined by committee convener Jackson Carlaw and members of the community and business representatives at the launch.

She said there are four sections of dualling “shovel ready” without progress being made.

“We’ve had Covid as an excuse, we’ve had Brexit as an excuse and we’ve had Vladimir (Putin) as an excuse. . I’m sorry it’s really not good enough.”

She said the public must use the consultation to get their views across: “This is their chance to hold the elected members to task and get these promises met.

“It will make things very uncomfortable for some ministers. I’m not here to give anybody an easy ride.

“For too many years we have been forgotten and its been shoved to the background. Something else has been far more important than people in the Highlands.

Petitions committee chairman Jackson Carlaw Images by Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

On the future cost of the project and value for money, Ms Hansler said you can’t put value on a life.

“It seems at times that a HIghland life is not as worthy as a Central Belt life.”

Mr Carlaw said he is also sceptical: “Why wouldn’t you be sceptical when there was a commitment made in 2011 to be dualled by 2025?

“It is unsual for the committee to take the issue forward in this way and we’re doing it because we recognise that frankly a long standing commitment and promise has gone unfulfilled.”

‘Too many false deadlines’

He said he believes the road will be dualled: “It has to be. I don’t think its acceptable that it hasn’t been.

“We have to be successful in respect of this petition. So the questions for us are ‘how is that achieved and when can it be achieved by?”

“People have had too many false deadlines. There has to be some immediate agreement on interim safety funding. The committee will want assurances that is not an ‘instead of’ that some people might fear and there has to be a credible way for that to be achieved.”

Sandy McCook is chairman of Nethy Bridge Community Council and represented all community councils in Badenoch and Strathspey at the launch. He said he is also concerned about the dualling commitment being broken.

“I’m very concerned about it. It’s been kicked down the road for so long.

“The first minister has said it would be a betrayal of the Highlands not to do it. So if they don’t follow through he is in a totally untenable position.”

He added: “There has been such an increasing number of accidents in recent years that people locally are frightened to go on the road and have concerns every time they have a relative or friend driving on it.”

Sandy McCook said people are frightened to drive on the A9

Colin Marr, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said there has been far too regular loss of life on the A9.

‘It is hampering investment’

“From a business perspective (the lack of dualling) is hampering investment in a big way.

“Not only is the journey too long, it’s too irregular. A single incident can add an hour to it, a bad accident can add 6-7 hours.

“It has a real impact on our economy and it’s bad for tourism. Tourists will choose to go somewhere there is not a dangerous road on the way.

Colin Marr said the road is affecting investment

David Richardson is Highlands and Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses. He said he is less positive now about the road being dualled.

“But it needs to be done for safety reasons as well as helping the area’s economy.

“We have a population that is declining and ageing. We have to attract more families and more young people in rural areas, as well as more visitors.

“The only way of doing it is breaking down remoteness barriers.”

Transport Scotland: ‘We WILL dual the A9’

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government remains firmly committed to completing the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness.”

The spokesperson said they’re “considering the optimal delivery programme” and are taking into account the impacts of Covid, the cost of living and other factors.

This, they say will allow them to “provide greater certainty” around “robust new timescales”.

The spokesperson added that an update on a new timescale will be given the Scottish Parliament in the Autumn.

Majority of politicians have signed pledge to dual the A9

We revealed on Tuesday that an overwhelming majority of MPs and MSPs representing communities who rely on the A9 signed our pledge to dual it as promised. 

A total of 13 people lost their lives on the road between Perth and Inverness last year.

The public consultation, which runs until September 15, is being held on the Scottish Parliament’s Your Priorities engagement site.

The launch of the consultation came just a few days after the latest accidents on the notorious road.

Two foreign tourists have appeared in private at Inverness Sheriff Court following two separate crashes on the A9 at the weekend.