The contractors behind part of the A96 dualling project have shut their Forres office, blaming the impact of an SNP-Green deal and casting “fresh doubt” over the scheme.
Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland appointed the Mott MacDonald Sweco joint venture in 2016 to carry out route option assessments.
The firm was also asked to make detailed design work for dualling the 28mile section of the A96 between Hardmuir and Fochabers.
The future of the project – to fully dual the route between Aberdeen and Inverness – has appeared uncertain since the SNP and Greens entered into a power-sharing deal at Holyrood last year.
The coalition announced the project would be subject to an “evidence-based” climate review, with the findings not due to be published until the end of this year.
Now, in correspondence seen by the Press and Journal, it has been revealed the contractors made the decision on Christmas Eve to close the Forres office on Hogmanay.
The email, sent to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, states the decision was taken “following the SNP-Green co-operation agreement and the decision to pause work on the scheme pending a climate change compatibility review”.
‘Betraying the north-east’
Mr Ross said he was “shocked” and claimed the closure is “extremely worrying” for the future of the project.
However, a Transport Scotland spokeswoman said the decision to close the office was an operational matter for the consultant with “no impact on the project at this time”.
The Scottish Government has committed to an “enhancement programme” on the major trunk road.
SNP Transport Minister Graeme Dey said in November the government will “not build infrastructure to cater for unrestrained increases of traffic volumes” due to climate concerns.
Mr Ross said the closure “highlights that those involved with this vital project simply don’t have the confidence that the SNP are fully committed to ensuring this critical trunk road will be fully dualled”.
He added: “The SNP are betraying the north-east by continuing to bow to the demands of their Green partners, who want to take cars off the road.
“Here in Moray cars are not a luxury but a necessity and this long-promised upgrade to the A96 must happen.
“The closure of this office is extremely worrying for the future of the project and we need SNP Ministers to finally commit to fully dualling the A96 as they previously promised to.
“If they don’t, they are putting local jobs and economic growth at risk.
“The A96 needs to be upgraded to give drivers a safer and improved journey between Aberdeen and Inverness, but this office closure has cast fresh doubt on the project.”
‘No impact on the project at this time’
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “This is an operational matter for the consultant concerned and has no impact on the project at this time.
“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.”