Highland flights expansion exposes rail upgrade ‘failures’

John Finnie at the Clachnaharry railway bridge.
Picture by Sandy McCook.
John Finnie at the Clachnaharry railway bridge. Picture by Sandy McCook.

An expansion of flights between Inverness and Heathrow exposes a “failure” by the Scottish Government to upgrade rail infrastructure, a north MSP has claimed.

Scottish Greens transport spokesman John Finnie reacted angrily to an increase in air services between the Highland capital and London, announced this week by British Airways.

The airline will up weekly flights of 10 to 16, with winter weekly flights rising from seven to 14.

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Mr Finnie said: “The fact that it is deemed necessary reflects extremely badly on the Scottish Government, who have repeatedly failed to adequately upgrade the rail infrastructure in the Highlands.

“Ministers must urgently deliver on previous promises to provide high quality and high speed rail links from the north, or more people will be forced to travel by air.”

He added: “There is absolutely no doubt that Inverness needs better transport links, for people travelling both north and south.

“However, given all we know about the impact air travel has on climate change, it’s extremely concerning to see such a dramatic increase in short-haul flights.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “With just under £8 billion invested since 2007, this government has a proven track record of growing Scotland’s railways.

“Work is progressing on enhancements on the Aberdeen to Inverness line, paving the way for faster journeys, more frequent services starting from December 2018.

“We’re progressing stations at Dalcross and Kintore to further connect communities in the Highlands to the central belt and beyond, while also investing in improved customer experiences through the continued rollout of our fleet.”

She added: “It shouldn’t be overlooked that the new flights mean travellers will be able to do a day’s business in London, as well as giving them greater options when it comes to connecting with international destinations from the hub at Heathrow.

“It also makes it easier for visitors to experience the world class tourism offering in the Highlands and will help increase passenger numbers at Inverness Airport.”

Despite Mr Finnie’s concerns, BA’s announcement was broadly welcomed by business leaders, politicians and airport bosses.

Inverness MP Drew Hendry said yesterday: “It is excellent news.

“We have already seen the fantastic benefits flights to Heathrow bring to our economy, our thriving tourism sector and for Highland residents.”