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A9 promise ‘betrayed’ as some in the SNP view the Highlands as ‘peripheral’

By Scott Maclennan

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Alex Neil's speaking at the A9 committee inquiry.
Alex Neil's speaking at the A9 committee inquiry.

Former cabinet secretary Alex Neil’s revelatory testimony to the committee inquiry into the Scottish Government’s failure to meet the 2025 A9 dualling deadline offered insights into how the programme got derailed.

As cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment he oversaw the initial implementation of the A9 dualling programme including identifying that it could be funded from unallocated capital investment worth £14.7 billion.

He also ordered officials to come up with a “realistic but ambitious” deadline and they produced the now infamous “unachievable” 2025 end date for the whole programme which was considered entirely “feasible.”

Most of that was contained in his opening statement and when questioned he suggested entrenched attitudes to the “peripheral” Highlands put the programme on the back burner which “betrayed our promise to the people of the Highlands and Islands, and Scotland.”

Mr Neil said: “I think ironically had it been built on time it probably would have cost about two thirds of the £3 billion budget leaving another £1 billion available for other projects.

“But because we have stalled, because we have delayed, because we have put it on the backburner, because we have betrayed our promise to the people of the Highlands and Islands, and Scotland – because this is important for the people of Scotland – because of all that when we will eventually get to do it it is probably going to cost up to a billion pounds more than it need have done because of these delays.”

One of his most damning statement came when he said: “I think there was a mentality, and it might still be there, that the Highlands and Islands was seen by some people maybe as peripheral. I think the same is true of the south west of Scotland.”

But issues have emerged more recently, he argued, saying: “I think one of the complicating factors in recent years – but it is only in recent recent – is the influence of the Greens. It is a legitimate point of view they have, I don’t agree with it, but it is a legitimate point of view that you don’t build roads, you can go back to the horse and cart, see how we get on with that.

“My own view is that emissions come from the combustion engine not from the road and the way to solve the emissions in road transport is to replace the combustion engine with hydrogen buses or electric cars, which we are in the process of doing.

“But even with electric cars and hydrogen buses you still need decent roads on which they have to travel. I have never seen the argument that the road itself is the problem, it is the combustion engine that is the problem not the road.”

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