Timescales for A9 and A96 dualling projects ‘ambitious’, admits First Minister
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that current timescales to deliver the A9 and A96 dualling projects are “ambitious” and will need to be considered in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked for reassurance that both projects would be “completed in full and within the original target timescales” during First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that dualling of the A9 would be “progressed as quickly as possible”, but stopped short of saying whether the Scottish Government would meet its commitment to complete the £3 billion project by 2025.
Reports in The Scotsman this week suggested that completion of the scheme between Inverness and Perth would be delayed to “nearer 2030”, while the £3bn project to dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030 could be downsized.
The second of 11 stretches of the A9 to be dualled as part of the project is due to be completed next winter.
Ministers’ infrastructure investment plan in 2015 stated: “The Scottish Government has given a commitment to complete to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025.”
However, the latest version, published last week, described the scheme as “phased dualling” with no completion date listed.
Ms Sturgeon agreed the proposals are “ambitious”, adding that “at times lengthy planning and statutory processes have to be undertaken”.
She said: “Not least because it is important that local residents and people get the chance to have their say on the design and any objections and concerns are taken into account and, where possible, addressed.
“Clearly, as is the case on almost every facet of life right now, Covid-19 has had an impact on all of this and we will need to consider what that impact will be going forward.
“But I’ve set out the significant progress, particularly on the A9, and where the A96 plans are and we’ll continue to progress these as quickly as possible.”
The announcement comes as the period for comments on the preferred option for a key stretch of the £3 billion A96 project – East of Huntly and Aberdeen – has been extended by a further three weeks.
The First Minister added: “The design and development processes have been protracted, obviously, by the impact of Covid, but also quite rightly in ensuring that the statutory process concludes with local communities having their say, and any objections, as far as possible, being resolved.
“Design work is also underway in dualling the A96.
“This is a very significant undertaking which requires very careful in-depth planning and design to ensure we deliver the right schemes and keep the impact on the environment to the minimum.
“Once the statutory process concludes, a timetable for progress can be set.”
A spokesperson for Transport Scotland told The Scotsman last week: “For a programme of the scale and significance of A9 dualling, it is simply good, responsible governance to take stock and ensure public funds will be spent efficiently, effectively and balancing the considerable benefits of the programme against financial risk and undue cumulative impacts to the travelling public and local communities.
“We appointed commercial advisors last year and as part of ongoing stakeholder engagement, market consultation will be undertaken this year to inform identification of the most efficient delivery model and programme.”