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First Minister denies A96 dualling 2030 deadline was scrapped years ago, claims 'we were always upfront', as Humza Yousaf visits Moray

By Lewis McBlane

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HUMZA Yousaf has denied that the Scottish Government scrapped the 2030 target for dualling the A96 more than three years ago.

First Minister Humza Yousaf in Lossiemouth ahead of the 2024 General Election...Picture: Beth Taylor
First Minister Humza Yousaf in Lossiemouth ahead of the 2024 General Election...Picture: Beth Taylor

Speaking while visiting Lossiemouth at the weekend, the First Minister confirmed he had seen internal emails which were the subject of our exclusive investigation.

Asked whether the deadline had been scrapped in November 2020, due to a cut in UK Government capital funding, he said it was “not the case” and denied that the public had been kept in the dark.

He argued that “we were always upfront, both for the A9 and the A96.”

The First Minister did not confirm the status of the 2030 deadline for dualling the A96, and did not explain why Transport Scotland officials, Scottish Government staff and then-Transport Secretary Michael Matheson agreed to remove the pledge from a report in November 2020.

Since the pledge – made in 2011 – was removed, no figure in the Scottish Government or Transport Scotland has confirmed that the pledge has been abandoned.

However, pushed on why mentions of 2030 had apparently disappeared, Mr Yousaf said Westminster cuts to capital infrastructure funding make "capital infrastructure projects challenging for the future".

Claiming that the cash available has been cut by 10 per cent over the next five years, he said "we would always have to rely on the capital grant we get from the UK Government".

That is in line with emails referred to in our investigation, which show that senior Transport Scotland officials have been worried about how funding cuts would affect A96 dualling since at least November 2020.

The First Minister confirmed that the year-late A96 Corridor Review "will have an impact on cost, on timescale” on the A96 dualling project and will report “very very soon indeed”.

He added the Scottish Government's timescales for dualling projects were "always ambitious".

“The timetables that we had – two things," he said.

“One, they were always ambitious.

“And, secondly, of course, the fact that we would always have to rely on the capital grant that we get from the UK government.

“If I give you an example, our capital grant has been cut by 10 per cent over the next five years, which, of course, makes our capital infrastructure projects challenging for the future.

“But we're absolutely committed to dualling the A9.

“In terms of the A96, of course, the review is ongoing, but due very, very soon indeed in terms of climate compatibility."

The First Minister also pledged to publish the review immediately after its completion.

“We're going through, obviously, a review of the sections of the A96," he said.

“So clearly, whatever the outcome of that review is, will have an impact on cost, on timescale.

“And, of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, who I think was interviewed recently actually, was upfront about the fact that as soon as we get that review we'll make that public.

“We'll make sure we share that with Parliament in terms of an update.

“And we'll always be upfront and honest with people."

The First Minister also defended his government's record of investment in the north east, highlighting Lossiemouth's East Beach Bridge as an example.

“We have got a good track record of investment, particularly in the north east, I have to say," he said.

“But we also know that people's expectation around the A9 and A96 is there.

“And we'll do everything we can to try and meet that expectation.

“But the commitment to dualling the A9 in Perth and Inverness, and of course the Inverness to Nairn and Nairn bypass for the A96, is absolutely crucial for us.

“We await the outcome of the climate review."

When pushed repeatedly on the disappearance of references to dualling the A96 by 2030, the First Minister singled out cuts to Holyrood's capital funds from Westminster.

“So I suppose there is a difference because the capital funding, we know now over the next five years, has been cut by 10 per cent," he said.

“So that will undoubtedly have an impact on our capital infrastructure projects.

“But I think the second point to make is the review is still underway.

“So the review itself will be able to inform, depending on what that review says, then our plans subsequent to that will inform what the timescales look like, what of course the cost implications are of the projects that we look to take forward.

“But our commitment has been, with dualling the A96, to ensure that we take forward the sections that are not part of the review, so Inverness and Nairn and Nairn bypass included, as an example.

“And to make sure that we're up front when that review is completed with the public and the Parliament.

“That's what we intend to do."

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