The SNP has been told it is “kicking the can down the road” to appease Green colleagues over a decision on fully dualling the A96.
Doubt has been cast over the future of major roads projects – including the A96 – since the SNP and Greens entered into a power-sharing deal at Holyrood.
The Scottish Government says its “current plan” is to fully dual the route between Inverness and Aberdeen, but is carrying out an “evidence-based review” of the scheme, which will report back by the end of next year.
Asked directly if the A96 will be dualled in full during a Scottish Conservative debate, Transport Minister Graeme Dey said the “dualling aspect of it is subject to the review”.
While committing to an “enhancement programme” on the road, Mr Dey said “we are clear that we will not build infrastructure to cater for unrestrained increases of traffic volumes” due to climate concerns.
‘Kicking can down the road’
Conservative MSP Graham Simpson described the review of the A96 as “kicking the can down the road to keep a party happy that would take us back to the horse and cart era”.
In September, we exclusively revealed Green north-east MSP Maggie Chapman is confident it will “not be viable” to fully dual the A96 for environmental reasons.
North-east MSP Liam Kerr said the SNP had promised to dual the route in 2011 “but their Green partners appear to have thrown this into reverse”.
He referenced new figures released by the Scottish Government which show there have been 105 accidents on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness in the last four years – with “nine fatalities in 2019 alone”.
The Conservative politician said: “In 1989, in response to its being the most dangerous road in Scotland, the Press and Journal launched its ‘End the Carnage – Spend the Cash’ campaign.
“It is a disgrace that three decades have passed and still it is not dualled.”
SNP Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing said constituents in rural Scotland have no choice but to rely on private car use and that will “remain the case in perpetuity”.
He also raised the importance of safety improvements on key routes, telling MSPs a friend of his “lost his wife on the A9 on the way to an SNP conference some years ago”.
The SNP veteran pressed Mr Dey to commit to the Nairn bypass on the A96 going ahead, rather than waiting for the “environmental test”.
The transport minister said the Scottish Government has made clear its commitment to “dual the A9 and the A96 as it runs through his constituency”, which “should offer him the reassurance he is looking for”.
Lack of ‘practical steps’
North-east Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba said the Scottish Government has offered no “practical steps” for reducing private car use.
She also criticised the Conservative Party for its historic deregulation of the public transport network which had left the country with the “broken transport system we have today”.
Green MSP Mark Ruskell said the “ink was barely dry” on the COP26 agreement yet “opposition parties have come to this chamber falling over themselves to support new trunk road expansion across Scotland”.
He told MSPs there will be “valid improvements that benefit road safety” but said a “modal shift” is required to help tackle the climate crisis.
How they voted
Despite the Tory claims, a majority of MSPs combined to vote against the party’s call on the Scottish Government to reaffirm its commitment to dualling the A9 and A96. The vote is not binding on the government.
The Tories had also called for upgrades to a number of other roads around Scotland.
Instead, MSPs backed a government amendment which “acknowledges the need to shift away from spending money on new road projects that encourage more people to drive, and instead focus resource on maintaining roads and improving safety”.