The future of the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness dualling project remains unclear as north-east Green and SNP politicians have either disagreed or remained vague on their thoughts on the improvement scheme.
Transport Scotland is still officially committed to dualling the whole 88 miles of the A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness, with the aim of improving journey times, safety, and economic growth.
But with the SNP’s recently announced partnership with the Scottish Green Party in Holyrood, doubt has been cast on the long-term plans to fully dual the entire road as a result of the Green’s views on transport, particularly in the context of climate change.
While two SNP politicians told us they backed dualling the whole route, one Green party member said it was “madness”, and another would not confirm her view.
What does the deal between the SNP and the Greens say about the A96?
In their deal, the SNP and Greens said they “have and will maintain distinct positions on the dualling of the A96”, but agreed the Scottish Government will “take forward a transport enhancement programme on the A96 corridor that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion, and addresses safety and environmental issues”.
Included in this commitment is dualling the A96 from Inverness to Nairn, and building bypasses at Nairn, Keith, Elgin and Inverurie.
“Targeted” safety improvements “where needed” in the likes of areas between Fochabers and Huntly, and between Inverurie and Aberdeen, are also part of the agreement, as is the development of an “electric highway” along the A96.
The agreement states that: “The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen.
“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.”
What do the local politicians think?
While two SNP MSPs, Gillian Martin of Aberdeenshire East and Fergus Ewing who represents Inverness and Nairn, both told us they backed dualling the entire A96 as planned, two Green politicians had alternative views.
When specifically asked if she would want the end result of the process to be the A96 dualled from Aberdeen to Inverness, the North-East regional Green MSP Maggie Chapman’s was unable to give a clear answer.
And Democratic and Independent Green Group councillor Martin Ford, who represents East Garioch on Aberdeenshire Council, called ambitions to dual the entire A96 “madness”.
Fergus Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn: dualling case “very strong”
Mr Ewing said he was “pleased” to see the confirmation that the Inverness to Nairn dualling would proceed, as well as the Nairn bypass, and said he backed dualling the rest of the route as well.
He added: “I do believe the case for dualling the length of the A96 remains very strong indeed, because even once we may be all driving electric cars, and that may be when I’m pushing up the daisies, my daughter will still need a road to drive on, and I’d like a safe, dualled road for her to drive on when I’m long gone.
“I’ve made it very clear that it’s essential that we do what we promised at the election, and that is a red-line issue for me.
“My view is that it will go ahead, the only question is when.
“We need a timetable and people need to know when it will happen.
“I’ve always thought that most people around Inverness and Nairn are reasonably patient and reasonable, and if it slips to 2026/27, it’s not the end of the world, but they all want to know when it’s going to happen.”
Martin Ford, Democratic and Independent Green Group councillor in Aberdeenshire: “It’s absolute madness”
Mr Ford has long campaigned against dualling the entirety of the A96 as he argues it goes against climate change ambitions due to new roads resulting in more carbon emissions.
He backed safety improvements where required, but argued turning the whole route into a dual carriageway is not required.
Mr Ford said: “By any objective measure, the biggest challenge facing mankind, not Scotland, the UK, or Aberdeenshire, but the planet, is the destruction of the functioning of the global ecosystem by the accumulation of human-generated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing increases in temperature and disruption to weather, and potentially droughts, leading to parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable.
“There’s a catalogue of things that are likely to follow from desertification, water shortages, and god knows what.
“So the notion that saying up against all the potential consequences of wrecking the world’s climate, weighing them up against a two-minute delay of being stuck behind a lorry on the A96, and it being more important to overtake the lorry?
“No, by any objective measure it is not more important to be able to overtake the lorry, and we have to get our priorities right.
“We’ve made binding commitments at both Scottish and UK levels to reduce emissions, and although you can argue about precisely what kind of increase in emissions dualling the A96 will cause, no one is going to claim that it will not be a significant increase.
He added: “It’s absolute madness to think that we can meet our climate targets and proceed with a major road-building programme, the two things are incompatible.”
Gillian Martin, Aberdeenshire East SNP MSP: “Dualling the entire road would be the safest option”
Ms Martin has argued in favour of dualling the A96 to reduce the number of accidents on the whole road from Aberdeen to Inverness.
She said: “I believe that when it comes down to it, that dualling the entire road would be the safest option.
“Because when you see it being done with patches of dualling, with crawler lanes and so on, what you will see is drivers taking chances and speeding on those bits to get past traffic before it goes back to a single carriageway.
“And that is more dangerous in my view.
“I’m not a civil engineer or a road safety expert, but I used to work in Elgin and travel up every day, and know that stretch very well and I know how many near-misses I’ve seen, and I’ve seen the behaviour of drivers.
“Do I want to see the whole thing dualled? Yes, I remain supportive of the whole A96 being dualled, and you’ll notice that in the wording, the Greens have a different view, and the SNP have a different view, and my view is dual the A96.
“I welcome a review as to how we can do this in the best possible way for a number of criteria, including safety, environmental concerns, driver behaviour, and the current driver numbers.”
Maggie Chapman, North-East regional Green MSP: “I am pleased that the wider project will face a climate impact assessment”
Ms Chapman was unable to give a direct answer when asked if she would like to see the whole A96 dualled, but said she welcomed the review of how the project would impact climate change.
She also highlighted investments in alternatives to road travel.
She said: “While acknowledging the need for some safety improvements along the route, I am pleased that the wider project will face a climate impact assessment.
“I’m also delighted that the draft co-operation agreement paves the way for significant investment into more sustainable transport options in the north-east such as the £5 billion, over this Parliament, that is to be invested in our railways and the increase in active travel funding to 10% of the transport budget, which is an investment of at least £320 million.”