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‘Utterly, utterly unacceptable and unthinkable’: Ewing calls for inquiry as A9 ‘delayed to 2050’

Fergus Ewing. Image: Supplied.
Fergus Ewing. Image: Supplied.

A Highland MSP has said it could be 2050 before dualling is completed on the A9.

Fergus Ewing, who represents the Inverness and Nairn constituency, said he believes the lack of  urgency from the government will delay the completion date to 2050.

Mr Ewing is now calling for a government inquiry into the A9 in order to speed up the process.

The MSP’s investigations with the construction industry found that the A9 could be completed by 2030 – if more than a single section was worked on at any one time.

Some 10 miles of the 112 mile route between Inverness and Perth have been completed. since the SNP pledged to complete dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025.

That date has now fallen by the wayside, as the government admitted it was “unachievable” while it carried out a number of studies.

Fergus Ewing is demanding a rethink on the A9. Image;: Jason Hedges.

“Industry sources advise me that the A9 dualling of Perth to Inverness could be completed around 2030 provided the current procurement strategy is replaced, ” Mr Ewing told The Press and Journal.

Five years for each section

“If not, then at the current rate of approximately five years for each section of the road – it won’t be done until 2050.

“That is utterly utterly  unacceptable and unthinkable .

“A framework contract provided to each of three, four or five companies would remove the need for tendering and enable more than one section to be completed at a time.

“Each one can be negotiated with a scope of work and bills of quantities.”

He continued: “If parts of the A96 from Smithton to Auldearn are done as part of these contracts then some traffic disruption on A9 may also be avoided

“Unless Transport Scotland fundamentally change their procurement strategy the dualling will not be completed for around a further 27 years.

“That prospect is shocking disgraceful and wholly unacceptable.”

He continued: “I shall this week in the Holyrood Petitions committee be calling for a committee inquiry into these vital issues at which we can take evidence from industry experts about how the job can be done by around the end of this decade

“I know it can – because I’ve spent much of the past two weeks in discussion with leading figures in industry.

“Transport Scotland must now work to share risks with industry – as they do in England.  If they carry on with the same approach they may be left with the same result as Tomatin to Moy.

A disaster

“That would be a disaster.”

He added: “There are signs Transport Scotland appreciate there is a serious problem as one major contractor has already departed from Scotland and another did not bid for Tomatin to Moy because of losses under previous contracts

In 2022, transport minister Jenny Gilruth, opened the A92/A96 Haudagain improvement project in Aberdeen this morning. Image: Kami Thomson / DC Thomson.

“But there is no sign in public at least that they are changing their strategy on procurement- as change they must. They must raise their game.”

Calling on a greater share of the capital spend to the Highlands to “catch up with major improvements delivered in most other parts of the country”.

He demanded: “An inquiry will force them both – Transport Scotland and Scottish Government ministers to provide answers and be accountable to the people.

“That’s what I’m calling for this week on parliament.”

In the Scotland on Sunday newspaper, published today, it said the construction industry are predicting it will be 2050 until the road is finished after only one bid was received by the government to complete the next section of the road to be upgraded.

And the cost was 20% more than expected.

It reports the offer to widen the six-mile stretch between Tomatin and Moy, south of Inverness, was £130-140 million compared to an anticipated £115m.

The contract is now “urgently” being retendered.

Neil Greig, policy and research director at the Institute of Advanced Motorists and a member of the A9 Safety Group, in an opinion piece published today, called the situation a ‘failure’ of government.

A bitter pill

He said: “It’s been a bitter pill to swallow but it’s been blatantly obvious for some time now that the A9 would never be fully dualled from Perth to Inverness by 2025.

“Despite the continuous focus on the road in the media and at Holyrood, the Scottish Government has simply been unable to deliver on one of their key promises.”

He added: “The Scottish Government must take responsibility for its long-term strategic failure, but day-to-day it is drivers who have to take personal responsibility for their own safety.”

In parliament, Jenny Gilruth, the transport minister,  told MSPs: “Transport Scotland is urgently considering a range of different options to provide ministers with advice on the most efficient way to dual the remaining sections. I expect to have that advice by the autumn.”

Transport Scotland said it could not provide details of the bid because of commercial confidentiality.

A spokeswoman for Transport Scotland  said any calls for an inquiry into A9 dualling are for the parliament to consider.”

Edward Mountain MSP, Highlands and Islands, had little sympathy for Mr Ewing.

He said: “Any delay to the dualling of the A9 is unacceptable and delay until 2050 is incomprehensible.

“This government has nowhere to hide on this and Fergus Ewing, who was a government minister, should hang his head in shame.”