Private memos show transport chiefs tried to keep a ministerial visit to a newly upgraded part of the A9 trunk road out of the public eye because it clashed with a national climate change campaign.
Documents released under freedom of information laws reveal officials feared “negative comment” and a perception of “conflicting priorities” if they publicised the event.
The communications emerged as doubts are raised about the government’s commitment to long-awaited road infrastructure projects.
Promises to dual the A9 and A96 are under scrutiny following the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens.
A series of events were planned by contractors in September to underline the community benefits from the completion and opening of the £96 million upgrade of the A9 section between the Inveralmond roundabout in Perth and the Pass of Birnam.
Transport Minister Graeme Dey was invited to attend, but memos show officials were concerned about the timing, and said the press should be kept away.
In a briefing prepared for the minister, they said: “We are aware that the Scottish Government Climate Week 2021 is being held 13-19 September and there are plans for the Cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport to deliver a parliamentary update during the same week that sets out the scale of the challenge and an indicative pathway to reducing transport emissions by 75% to 2030.
‘Risk of attracting negative comment’
“We recommend therefore that the event is undertaken as a closed call to minimise the risk of attracting negative comment given the potential perception of conflicting priorities between promoting the benefits of a new road project in the same week as the focus on sustainability/climate change.”
The note added: “The footage/images captured during the event will be used for a subsequent press release and social media updates to promote the success of the community benefits delivered by the project which will be released at an appropriate time following the visit.”
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson led a Holyrood debate on Scotland’s bid to become a “net zero nation” on September 21.
Details of Mr Dey’s visit to the A9 were published by Transport Scotland more than a week later, with no mention of when it had taken place.
It said he was joined by members of local community organisation, Stanley Development Trust, as well as Cycling Without Age Scotland, to explore the cycle paths built as part of the project.
Ministers previously signalled a review of the plan to deliver the remaining sections of the A9 upgrade between Perth and Inverness would be completed by summer 2021, but the details have still not been published.
‘Spinning the optics of a photo call’
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said: “The SNP should focus on delivering on its promises instead of spinning the optics of a photo call.
“But that’s all we have had for the last 14 years of SNP in power — surface and promises without depth or delivery.
“People the length of Scotland have waited years for this incredibly dangerous road to be fully dualled.
“Long-awaited improvements are needed to address safety issues and this should be treated as a priority by any minister.
“Making our roads safer in no way impinges on our climate change obligations.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and work is continuing across the route.
‘Vital safety benefits’
“As well as the completed section between Kincraig and Dalraddy and recently opened section between Luncarty and Pass of Birnam, procurement of the construction contract to dual the A9 between Tomatin and Moy is also underway.
“We continue with the statutory procedures for seven of the remaining eight schemes with the Made Orders published for four schemes recently.
“The A9 dualling will bring vital safety benefits and strengthen the connection between the Highlands and the central belt for communities and business through safer roads for road users including bus services, improve journey time reliability and reduce driver stress.
“The programme will also bring enhanced active travel routes, providing a more sustainable transport network.”