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Let's remember Scottish Government A96 dualling update promises ahead of possible announcement in Programme for Government

By Lewis McBlane

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WITH an update on the A96 dualling's fate looming, the Forres Gazette has looked back at Scottish Government transport promises to Moray.

The A96 at Brodie.
The A96 at Brodie.

Later today, First Minister Humza Yousaf will deliver his Programme for Government at Holyrood.

Speaking about today's announcement during an August podcast appearance, he said: "I hope to say more about the A9 in particular".

However, it is unclear whether an update on the A96 will be included.

The Scottish Government promised to dual the road in their 2011 Holyrood election manifesto and confirmed plans in the 2011 Infrastructure Investment Plan – with a deadline of 2030.

Significant design and consultation work was completed for the project and preferred routes chosen, but ground was never broken.

The multi-million pound A96 corridor review was launched in 2021, as part of the SNP and the Green's coalition agreement, which saw an A96 contractor close their Forres office.

After 8 months of delays, the release of review outcomes for consultation is now imminent.

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Transport Màiri McAllan admitted, at a (June 2023) committee meeting, that the outcome of the climate review “could have a bearing” on whether the A96 is fully dualled.

All sections of the proposed A96 dualling are subject to the review – with their future still up in the air – apart from the section between Inverness and Nairn.

As a result, the Scottish Government could fail to meet their 2011 pledge to Moray and the north east.

Policies agreed between the SNP and Greens, following coalition talks, are laid out in the Bute House Agreement.

If the review outcome abandon the A96 dualling promise, the following backstop policies must appear to avoid breaking further pledges.

An early document in the A96 Corridor Review, the Initial Appraisal: Case for Change, confirmed that all Bute House options were being taken forward within a list of 16 potential options.

We will take the policies in turn, and talk about what they could mean for local road users.

What must the outcome include?

To meet the Bute House Agreement, the review outcome must propose a "transports enhancements programme" including:

  • Bypasses for Elgin, Keith and Inverurie, with measures to remove through traffic from bypassed towns
  • Road safety improvements, with specific mention of between Fochabers and Huntly and Inverurie to Aberdeen
  • The development of an "A96 Electric Highway"
  • Dualling from Inverness to Nairn

Bypasses for Elgin Keith and Inverurie

The Bute House Agreement states that the Scottish Government's "transport enhancements programme" "will include" bypasses for Elgin, Keith and Inverurie, along with "measures to remove through traffic from the by-passed town centres."

This commitment is not subject to the climate review.

Keith is well used to long waits on the A96 and frequent roadworks.
Keith is well used to long waits on the A96 and frequent roadworks.

Speaking exclusively to the Northern Scot while visiting Moray in July, First Minister Humza Yousaf gave his "cast iron" pledge that the Scottish Government would move "not one inch" on bypass commitments.

"The reason why there hasn't been as much progress is because we are in a period where our capital budgets have been cut by the UK government.

"What's in the Bute House Agreement hasn't changed and won't change. That, for me, is cast iron.

"We can't move away from that, not one inch.”

Asked whether bypasses could be torpedoed in "tough decisions" motivated by an expected 16 per cent capital spending shortfall by 2025-2026, the First Minister said: "I don't see those [bypasses] as part of those tough decisions.

"However there are tough decisions that have to be made.

"But I cannot put it in strong enough terms.

“What we have committed to going ahead in the Bute House Agreement – that will go ahead.

"That is not under threat."

Moray has a long, proud history of grassroots bypass campaigns.

The A96 used to run through the heart of Forres and Fochabers, but passionate local efforts secured bypasses for these communities.

And local calls for an Elgin bypass have existed for more than 80 years, with councillors still backing the cause.

The A96 Corridor Review's Initial Appraisal states that bypasses would: "Improve the safety, resilience, and reliability of the A96" in and around towns.

Road safety improvements

Within the Bute House Agreement, both the SNP and Greens committed to a pledge on "targeted safety improvements".

Two sections received a specific mention in the document: between Fochabers and Huntly, and between Inverurie and Aberdeen.

Crashes on the A96 between Fochabers and Huntly are a common occurrence – including an accident near Keith which left five dead and deeply impacted the local community.

One junction in Huntly, between the A96 and A920 near the town's Tesco, has been described as "terrifying", with a litany of crashes and injuries in its wake.

In response to community demands, operator Amey and Transport Scotland confirmed "improvements" at the junction would include new digital signs warning drivers of turning vehicles, new road markings and road studs.

The £400,000 scheme began yesterday (September 4) and could provide clues to the type of works planned elsewhere along the A96.

In the Initial Appraisal, improvements are described as: "Improving the safety performance of the A96 trunk road to address both real and perceived road safety concerns".

Measures included range from from "minor improvements through to partial dualling", the document states.

The development of an "A96 Electric Highway"

Also mentioned in the Bute House Agreement is an "A96 Electric Highway".

This would include more electric vehicle charging points along the A96 and interlinked local roads.

As a result, alternative fuels would become easier to access.

The Initial Appraisal said the plan would include: "Provision of alternative refuelling infrastructure and facilities along the A96 corridor, its interfacing local roads as well as, where appropriate, strategic economic and transport hubs.

"This option will directly facilitate the dispensation of alternative sources of fuel for various modes of sustainable transport although it is recognised that the option is likely to focus on road vehicles."

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