The Greens’ north-east MSP has revealed she is confident it will “not be viable” to fully dual the A96 for environmental reasons.
Doubt has been cast on the long-term plan to fully dual the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness, after the SNP and Greens announced their power-sharing deal last month.
Both parties agreed to “maintain distinct positions” on the dualling of the route but agreed a review be carried out to assess the climate impact.
Speaking on the The Stooshie – the politics podcast from DC Thomson – Green MSP Maggie Chapman revealed she is confident this assessment will find that it “actually isn’t viable to dual the whole way”.
However, a Transport Scotland spokeswoman said the “current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen” but acknowledged the review which will report by the end of next year.
Scottish Conservative shadow transport secretary Liam Kerr claimed the Greens “seem to be unpicking each and every one of the SNP’s manifesto commitments”.
Ms Chapman, who represents the north-east, said the government has to “look at all big infrastructure projects and consider very carefully what it is we’re trying to achieve with them”.
In terms of the A96 project specifically, Ms Chapman said there are “clear areas where there does need to be some work done for safety purposes” but the government has to “take a step back and look at this in the whole”.
She added: “We made our position in our manifesto clear and given the commitments from the Scottish Government to undertake climate impact assessments on these kind of projects, I think it’s going to be very clear that it actually isn’t viable to dual the whole way.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t perhaps tackle specific issues of safety or of congestion but I think there are ways other than building roads everywhere that allow us to increase connectivity and increase viable public transport options.”
Scottish Conservative shadow transport secretary Liam Kerr said completing the A96 dualling was an election promise of the SNP in their most recent manifesto.
He added: “Covid was blamed for delays over the past year but the pledge was maintained.
“If that is amended in any way by politics – not by the consultation process – it will be an unforgivable stain on the SNP.
“Voters in the north east will be wondering what comes next out of the coalition of chaos.”
Campaign to dual road
The campaign to dual the road stretches back more than three decades, with figures once showing it was once dubbed Scotland’s “most dangerous road”.
In March 1989, the Press and Journal launched the ‘End the Carnage – Spend the Cash’ campaign, demanding major improvements to the trunk road.
More than 60,000 people signed the petition which called on the UK Government to “act swiftly” on the issue.
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to improving the A96 and will take forward a transport enhancements programme on the corridor that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion and addresses safety and environmental issues.
“The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen, however the Scottish Government has agreed to conduct a transparent, evidence-based review of the programme which will report by the end of 2022. This is sensible good governance for major investment of this kind.
“Work on other trunk roads projects and programmes under construction, design, development or procurement will continue and be subject to the normal statutory assessment and business case processes.”
Analysis: ‘Agree to disagree’ doesn’t cut it here
Nicola Sturgeon is used to being accused of kicking the can down the road in party political spats on stubborn problems, writes Andy Philip, Press & Journal political editor.
When it comes to the A96 improvement scheme, that can has been rattling around longer than the parliament at Holyrood has existed.
Calls for the full dualling of the route were being made in the 1980s.
Petitions were sent, safety campaigns were championed.
Elections were fought over promises to fix stretches of the road, including one from Alex Salmond before he became First Minister by winning the Gordon seat in 2007.
Fast forward to 2021, and Ms Sturgeon entered a co-operation deal with the Scottish Green Party knowing there would be difficult splits in policy and opinion.
The reality of the co-operation deal is becoming clear, and it could be another big problem for the SNP where the Conservatives are waiting to pounce.
Plans to dual the A96 stood out as one of the eye-catching bits in the “agree to disagree” section of the SNP-Green agreement.
It is in that category for good reason – our relationship with motoring and fossil fuels has to change.
But the impression is being allowed to form that this deal is a win for the SNP and the Greens, despite clearly competing ambitions.
Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster, insisted safety plans will go ahead. It was said with enough ambiguity to please both camps.
Green MSP Maggie Chapman suggests there’s an expectation a review will stop the dualling.
They can’t both be right.