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EXCLUSIVE: First Minister Humza Yousaf signs Inverness Courier's A9 Pledge

By Scott Maclennan

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In an exclusive meeting with The Inverness Courier to sign our A9 pledge, First Minister Humza Yousaf gave us a personal “cast iron guarantee” of his commitment to prioritising the 2035 dualling deadline.

After the ink met the paper to formalise the pledge, he said: “I can give you that promise, that cast iron guarantee, that fully dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness remains a top priority for me as the First Minister.”

It is perhaps the most binding statement made on the A9 by a First Minister to the people of the Highlands, which since 2011 has seen less than one mile of road dualled a year.

The First Minister's A9 Pledge.
The First Minister's A9 Pledge.

First Minister's A9 Pledge:

1. The Scottish Government's delivery plan is to complete dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth in 2035.

2. The Scottish Government commits to keeping people and Parliament informed of progress on all remaining single carriageway sections between Inverness and Perth.

3. The A9 Dualling Programme will be delivered in full and the Scottish Government will prioritise the needs of Highland communities to unlock the region's potential for growth and progress.

Mr Yousaf said: “I am really pleased to sign this pledge with the Inverness Courier but most importantly to the communities that will be impacted positively, of course, by the fully dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness.

“It is a really important pledge because I will be the first to admit, we all know that there's been delays to the original timetable but what we've been able to set out today is first and foremost is that confirmation is that it will be fully dualled and we'll do that in 2035.”

But news that the Highlands will finally be connected to central and southern Scotland by uninterrupted dual carriageway in 2035 is not the only significant development regarding the A9 this week.

Transport secretary Mairi McAllan said in her statement that the Scottish Government foresees a rolling programme of work on the road. This is important because any slow down will be instantly noticeable, making it difficult to avoid these commitments without evidence of any discernible action. All eyes are on the next steps.

The Inverness Courier team travelled to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday to be present for the statement.

HNM's Sarah Fyfe signing the A9 Pledge with First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Callum Mackay.
HNM's Sarah Fyfe signing the A9 Pledge with First Minister Humza Yousaf. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Why should we trust you now?

Afterwards we put perhaps the key question for many Highlanders to the First Minister – why should we trust you now?

“I think that's a really fair challenge to put to the government. The reason to trust us is that we're getting the detail of each section and how we intend to fund those sections, through design and build contracts through what we call mutual investment model.”

Mr Yousaf answered: “We're giving detailed milestones and now that we have given these commitments the requisite funding – the budget was announced by the deputy first minister on Tuesday – gives confidence that we're putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to the funding that's acquired for 2024/25.

“But I also fully accept that, really, it will not be just trusting a politician’s word, that the communities want is to see action and I've got no doubt that when we progress the construction on Tomatin to Moy - the construction should start next year - then people will see that we are absolutely committed to full dualling.”

The estimated cost of the A9 Dualling is £3.7bn at April 2023 prices.
The estimated cost of the A9 Dualling is £3.7bn at April 2023 prices.

The new plans

The new plan of works recognises that 48 per cent of the A9 will be dual carriageway by the end of 2030, 53 per cent by the end of 2031, 85 per cent by 2033 and the final sections will be done “at the earliest” by 2035.

There are now two ways of funding the work, the first is the traditional design and build (D&B) using capital investment from the government the second is a mutual investment model or MIM designed by the Welsh Government.

MIM schemes use private partners to build and maintain public assets and in return the Scottish Government pays a fee to the private partner, which will cover the cost of construction, maintenance and financing the project.

With greater clarity, the programme is now broken down into A9 Dualling North: Tomatin to Moy (completion date: 2027); Dalraddy to Slochd and Crubenmore to Kincraig (both winter 2026/27 – MIM) – Kincraig to Dalraddy was completed in 2017.

The A9 Dualling Central involves Killiecrankie to Glen Garry, Glen Garry to Dalwhinnie, Dalwhinne to Crubenmore going to procurement in 2028/29, contracts awarded by 2030 followed by five years of work all funded by MIM.

A9 Dualling South will see Pitlochry to Killiecrankie tendered in 2025, contract awarded in 2026 and completed by the end of 2030, Tay Crossing to Ballinluig will be procured in 2024, contracts awarded in 2025 and finished by the end of 2028.

The final part of the south section will see the Pass of Birnam to Tay Crossing procured in 2027, work contracted in 2028 and completed by 2032 – Luncarty to the Pass of Birnam was finished in 2021 and all will be paid for by D&B.

Fergus Ewing MSP. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Fergus Ewing MSP. Picture: Callum Mackay..

'We have to be ready in life to accept victory'

Many of these points were demanded by a range of people from campaigners like Laura Hansler and MSPs Kate Forbes and Fergus Ewing.

In Mr Ewing’s remarks directly after the announcement he was at the same time clear-eyed about the remaining risks – “sceptical” in his own words – and he cautiously celebrated what has been reached.

“At long last we have an announcement of an outline plan and that is welcome,” he said. “But many people in the Highlands, many Courier readers, will be of the view that until they see diggers on the road they will need to be convinced, and I remain sceptical.

“But I do welcome the fact that at long last there is a plan. Yes, far too late. But there is now a plan. And the point I stressed to the minister is that there cannot be any more delays, any more slippage from that plan, or any more broken promises.

“2035 is when I thought it would be. It is 10 years too late but frankly, you know, maybe we did over-promise and we certainly have under-delivered and let's not make any bones about that.

“I would have liked to hear a little more apology about that, actually, a bit more owning up to all the delays and slippages which, of course, caused people to be so angry in the Highlands.

Asked if he thinks this will be enough to re-earn or secure the trust of people in the Highlands?"

Mr Ewing was clear: “No.

“I think many people will give them another chance but they are really in the last chance saloon, it's not sufficient in itself, because many people will simply say we've heard it all before.

“But we have to be ready in life to accept victory. If they deliver what they've set out then I very much hope to be there at the cutting of the ribbon and the completion of the dualling of the final section of the A9.”

Two over our front pages since the Scottish Government broke is promise to complete the dualling of the A9 from Inverness-Perth by 2025.
Two over our front pages since the Scottish Government broke is promise to complete the dualling of the A9 from Inverness-Perth by 2025.

'It's been an excellent campaign'

The voice of the Highland people, their concerns, frustrations and serious sense they had been left at the side of a long forgotten road project are real and Mr Yousaf recognised the Courier’s role in amplifying Highlanders voice to the Scottish Government.

“I think it's been an excellent campaign,” said the First Minister. “I was at the Inverness Courier hustings, of course, during my election contest. It was an issue that was put to me by the Inverness Courier, by the moderator, by the chair, by those in the audience at the time.

“And I remember at the time, the Inverness Courier making it very clear that, if I was to become First Minister as it transpired, they would be making sure that they would keep my feet to the fire and that I lived up to the promises that I made, that there's a cast iron guarantee from the government that I lead that we would fully dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness.

“I have to say we were always committed to fully dualling the A9 but I’m delighted to give this commitment and give some of the detail to that commitment to the Inverness Courier but also to the people of the Highlands.”

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