We continue to take forward plans to dual the A9 and the A96. Despite the 5 per cent cut to Scotland’s capital budget as a result of Westminster budget decisions, we have completed the first section of the A9 and construction is well under way on the second, with the project expected to open to traffic in the winter of this year. The design and development process has been protracted by the impacts of Covid and, rightly, through ensuring that the statutory process concludes, with local communities having their say and any objections being resolved as far as possible.
Design work is well under way on dualling the A96. That is a significant undertaking that requires careful in-depth planning and design to ensure that we deliver the right schemes and keep impacts on the environment to a minimum. Once the statutory process concludes, a timetable for progress can be set.
The pledges to complete work by 2025 and 2030 for the A9 and A96 respectively have been described as “ambitious”. Of the 11 sections of road under the A9 programme, which started in 2011, only one has been completed so far, with only one other even under construction. None of the work on the A96 has started. The projects are vital for communities across my region, for accessibility and for safety, with IAM RoadSmart saying that failure to complete the projects
“will cost lives as well as stunting the local economy.”
Can the First Minister again reassure my constituents in the Highlands and Islands that the Scottish Government is committed to completing both projects in full and within the original target timescales? Will she commit to providing delivery timescales for the remaining sections of the A9 and for the A96?
I agree that the proposals are ambitious, but I have set out the progress and our intentions. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity to write to the member in more detail to set out the future projections. As everybody knows, such projects involve complex and at times lengthy planning and statutory processes that have to be undertaken, not least because it is important that local residents get the chance to have their say on the design and that any objections or concerns are taken into account and, where possible, addressed.
Clearly, as is the case with almost every facet of life right now, Covid has had an impact on the projects, and we will need to consider exactly what that impact will be going forward. I have set out the significant progress on the A9 and where we are with the A96 plans. We will continue to progress those as quickly as possible.