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Salmond and Sturgeon to be grilled on A9 dualling delays

Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond will answer questions on the dualling of the A9 | Alamy

Salmond and Sturgeon to be grilled on A9 dualling delays

Former first ministers Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have been called up to answer questions on why the Scottish Government’s long-held plans to dual the A9 have not come to fruition.

Last year parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee began considering a petition lodged by road safety campaigner Laura Hansler that called on the government to fulfil its 2011 promise to fully dual the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025.

A total of 11 miles of the roadway have been upgraded over the past decade, with around 80 miles still to go. The Scottish Government last year conceded that the original timetable could not be met, with the work now not expected to complete under 2035.

The petition also asked the government to consider creating a national memorial to those who have lost their lives on the road, which switches from dual to single carriageway a number of times and is known as an accident blackspot. Well over 300 people have died on the road since 1979.

As part of its evidence-gathering sessions, the public petitions committee will hear from Salmond on 8 May and from Sturgeon on 29 May. The former was head of the Scottish Government at the time the dualling commitment was made, while the latter was first minister between 2014 and last year.

Committee convener Jackson Carlaw said the evidence sessions would focus on getting to the bottom of “fundamental unanswered questions” about why the dualling project was allowed to fall so far behind schedule.

“During the course of our A9 Dualling Inquiry, there has been a number of further serious injuries and fatalities on the road, every one of which is an unmitigated tragedy,” he said.

“When we launched our call for views at the start of this inquiry, it was clear that the top priorities for those who use and rely on the road are completing the promised dualling and improving road safety in the meantime.

“Having taken evidence from a wide range of stakeholders and previous transport ministers, there are still fundamental unanswered questions around why the A9 dualling project was allowed to fall so far behind the originally promised completion date and where responsibility for that failure lies.

“As former first ministers, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon can hopefully shed some light on the governance and decision-making processes at the very top of government during their time in office and help the committee to understand what needs to change to ensure there will be no backsliding on the new 2035 anticipated completion date.”

Last year former MSP Alex Neil, who was infrastructure secretary at the time the dualling plan was announced, accused the government of having a “gobsmacking” lack of “ambition” on roads.

While cost has been used as a reason for the delays, he said the project was fully costed from the outset but that the overall price would rise by £1bn due to the ongoing delays.

“I think it's very disappointing and very damaging to the Scottish economy, and even far more damaging to the Highlands and Islands, that this well thought-out project has not been completed, let alone on time," he told the public petitions committee.

At the time the 2035 timetable was announced then transport secretary Mairi McAllan, who now has oversight of the economy brief, said she accepted that “people have been waiting too long”.

She said the government was “working hard to give the confidence to the Highlands” that half of the work will be completed by 2030, 85 per cent will be finished by 2033 and the final phase expected to open by 2035.

“This programme has faced challenges and I acknowledge that it has not progressed at the pace we would have liked,” she said.

“However, the A9 is the backbone of Scotland. It must be safe, reliable and as resilient as possible and that's what the Scottish Government will deliver.”

The SNP’s government partners the Scottish Greens have previously spoken out against the need to dual trunk roads, claiming it would increase traffic and so the potential for accidents.

However, last year co-leader Lorna Slater, who serves as Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity in the government, said that work on the A9 needed to proceed “in order to make that road safe”.

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