A9 dualling delayed as tender process restarted
Dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness will not be completed as planned by 2025 after the procurement process had to be restarted.
A tender competition for the six-mile section between Tomatin to Moy attracted only one bid and ministers said it was “significantly higher” than the £115 million budget.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said it would not represent best value for the taxpayer and has asked Transport Scotland to begin a new procurement competition with the aim of achieving a contract award before the end of this year.
Some of Transport Scotland’s standard contractual terms and conditions for such projects will be modified to encourage more bidders to participate.
Thirteen people died on the road last year, the highest number in 20 years. Dualling the entire route will provide 80 miles of new dual carriageway at a cost of £3bn at 2008 prices. It is one of the largest infrastructure programmes ever undertaken in Scotland but so far only two of the eleven sections have been completed.
Her announcement to parliament was met with a chorus of anger and claims that the government had let down the Highlands. Ms Gilruth was mocked for linking the delay to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and drew criticism from former SNP minister Fergus Ewing who described it as a “betrayal”.
Ms Gilruth said: “I fully appreciate that this will be disappointing news for many people. However, I want to be absolutely clear to the communities and businesses served by the A9 between Perth and Inverness, that the Scottish Government’s commitment to dualling the section between Tomatin and Moy is unaffected.
“This procurement process coincided with external factors including the pandemic, disruption caused by Brexit, and the war in Ukraine, with the inflationary impacts of those all affecting significantly the construction market.
“This has been a difficult decision to make but we believe it to be the right, and indeed the only responsible one to take in all the circumstances. However, let me assure everyone that Transport Scotland is already taking the necessary preparatory steps for the urgent re-tendering of the Tomatin to Moy project.
“Work has begun to update contract terms and work will continue on preparations for the new procurement for Tomatin to Moy, with the firm aim of achieving a contract award before the end of 2023.”
Ms Gilruth also advised parliament that Transport Scotland’s work to determine the best procurement route for the remainder of the programme has also been impacted by recent and ongoing economic volatility.
She added: “It is true that the target date set always represented an ambitious challenge. It was reliant on the timely and positive outcome of a range of factors such as completing public and stakeholder consultation; statutory approval processes; market capacity; supply chain availability and availability of funding, all of which have been significantly impacted by the events I outlined earlier. This has made this 2025 date simply unachievable.
“Transport Scotland is urgently considering a range of different options to provide Ministers advice on the most efficient way in which to dual the remaining sections.
“That consideration will include updating the evaluation of options involving the use of design & build contracts, to reflect changes to contractual terms and conditions developed from engagement with the construction industry.
“I expect to have that advice by Autumn 2023 at which time I will update Parliament to put forward a renewed timescale for completion.
“Our investment of over £430 million to date means much has already been achieved and while much is still to be done, this Government is absolutely committed to completing the A9 Dualling programme.”
In recognition of the immediate road safety concerns following fatal accidents that occurred on the route in the second half of 2022, Ms Gilruth added: ”I announced an investment of approximately £5 million in additional road safety measures for the A9 back in December.
“I am pleased to confirm that these have now commenced and are progressing well, as confirmed by BEAR Scotland at the A9 Safety Group last week in Inverness.
“This includes enhancements to signing and road markings, initially between Birnam and Dalguise, and installation of eight electronic signs to display safety messages at key locations between Perth and Inverness.
“Furthermore, a road safety campaign targeting driver fatigue will begin on 13 February and preparations for a drive on the left campaign are well underway ahead of an Easter launch.”
Murdo Fraser, the Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, accused Ms Gilruth of “empty words repeated over and over.
“She even had the nerve — on the day President Zelensky visited Britain — to blame Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for the SNP’s inability to get this work done.”
Scottish Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is a total betrayal of the highlands and yet another broken election promise.
“Lives are being lost on this dangerous road while communities go without the upgrades they have waited years for.
“It is shameful that on the day Volodymyr Zelensky is addressing the UK Parliament, SNP Ministers are trying to blame the war in Ukraine for the their failure to deliver a manifesto pledge from 2007.
“This is a mess of the SNP’s own making – and the Minister’s desperate excuses can’t hide that.
“The SNP need to come clean and tell us when they will actually deliver this long overdue promise.”