The Scottish Government will today be challenged over its commitment to the planned dualling of the A9 and A96.
Fears the trunk road improvements could be delayed for years have been raised by the Scottish Conservatives, amid some speculation they have effectively been shelved.
The period for comments on the preferred option for a key stretch of the £3 billion A96 project – East of Huntly and Aberdeen – has been extended by a further three weeks.
Transport Scotland said it had listened to feedback from local communities and their elected representatives and was “happy” to extend the feedback period to March 8.
But despite the continued consultation, the Tories have cast over Scottish ministers’ commitment to the schemes after a Transport Scotland spokesman revealed consideration of the dualling schemes has been removed from its Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2).
Transport Scotland told MSPs in 2019 the review would consider the future of both schemes.
Speaking ahead of raising the issue with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions today, Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “The SNP made a cast-iron commitment to the people of the Highlands and Islands that these roads would be dualled and within clear timescales.
“They are vital parts of the infrastructure of the region and should be acting as a driver for investment and jobs growth.
“However, some stretches are simply not fit-for-purpose and are a deterrent to much-needed investment and job creation in my region.
“We face an immense challenge to reboot our economy after the ravages of the Covid pandemic and investment in improving local transport infrastructure must be part of that.”
Council officers need to focus efforts on pandemic
Aberdeenshire Council’s deputy leader and infrastructure committee chairman Peter Argyle was among those who had called for an extended deadline on the consultation over the preferred route option for the East of Huntly to Aberdeen section.
He told the P&J council officers needed be allowed to focus their efforts on the “life and limb” issues of dealing with the pandemic instead of rushing to meet a Scottish Government deadline.
Mr Argyll said busy staff were being made to choose between helping the council deal with Covid and preparing the authority’s official response to Transport Scotland’s plans.
In a statement, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson said: “As with all Transport Scotland’s major infrastructure projects, consultation is an integral part of the design process for the A96 dualling East of Huntly to Aberdeen scheme.
“Recognising the impact of the festive period and the Covid restrictions, we had already extended the usual feedback period by two weeks to eight weeks.
“However, I recognise the widespread interest in this scheme and in light of the ongoing restrictions and feedback received, I am happy to extend the consultation period for a further three weeks to let the public have their say on the preferred option.
“As we continue to develop the preferred option in greater detail, individuals, communities and businesses affected by the work will be kept fully informed and their feedback carefully considered.”