27 November 2002

S1M-3565 A9

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 27 November 2002

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3565, in the name of John Swinney, on the A9 from Perth to Inverness. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the unacceptable level of death and injury caused by road traffic accidents on the A9 from Perth to Inverness; recognises that the design of the A9, particularly the frequent switching between single and dual carriageway, contributes to this level of danger; welcomes improvements made to the road design to improve safety, particularly measures already agreed at the Bankfoot and Ballinluig junctions, but recognises that, until the A9 from Perth to Inverness is re-constructed as a dual carriageway with safe junctions, it will continue to present road safety dangers to the local community and the significant number of visitors to the area.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank John Swinney for the opportunity to debate this important topic. I have an emotional attachment to the A9, as we used to travel every year from Cupar to Achmelvich in west Sutherland, which was a 12 to 14-hour journey using the A9. In those days, one could measure the disasters on the A9 simply by looking in the yard of the garage at Calvine. Only in recent times has that ceased to be the measure of the carnage on the A9 for me.

Even today, the A9 is an important road. The absence of an Aberdeen bypass means that—paradoxically, because of the greater length—it is quicker for me to travel cross-country to join the A9 from Whitehills outside Banff to go down to Edinburgh than it is to travel the A90 via Aberdeen.

I will develop that point by reference to an experience that I had 10 days ago. I was in the control room of Scottish and Southern Energy in Peterhead. The company had problems in delivering an electricity supply to its customers, because of flooding in the Keith area. It had to take a 1MW generator from its depot in Inverness to Keith. The police forbade its travelling along the coastal road, so it had to travel down the A9 to Perth, from Perth to Dundee, from Dundee to Aberdeen and from Aberdeen to Keith. Instead of the journey of one hour and 54 minutes for the 55.5 miles from Inverness to Keith, the generator took a journey of seven hours and 24 minutes and covered 247.4 miles.

In the sparsely enroaded area north of the central belt, the A9 plays an important relief role when other connections are unavailable. That brings us to the nub of an aspect of the argument. The A9 is an important regional road that has national implications for safety when other roads are blocked and for economic development, because alternatives are few.

I ask the minister to consider whether our evaluation of roads investment is too narrow, as it is based simply on cost. Roads are costs. Does not an alternative way of considering the matter exist? We should see roads as investment. To do so would allow communities such as Inverness to realise their potential. I ask the minister to think not of the cost of upgrading the A9, but of the cost of not upgrading it. Think not of the cost to the economy, think of the cost in lives. Let us make the first phase of the campaign to join the duals. Let us then have the whole thing.


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