The Scottish Government has admitted its plans to turn the A9 into a dual carriageway by 2025 will not be achieved, as it set out its plans for dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness. However it has reiterated its “unwavering commitment to deliver the benefits of the completed programme” despite what it calls “significant challenges” it has recently faced.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth updated Holyrood on what she called the “disappointing outcome” of the procurement for the Tomatin to Moy section which only received one tender submission. Following careful consideration of this tender, the price of which was significantly higher than expected – even allowing for the real world impacts of the volatile economy – Ministers have concluded that award of the contract at this time would not represent best value for the taxpayer.
The Minister has asked Transport Scotland to begin a new procurement competition for the project, with the aim of achieving a contract award before the end of 2023. This process will include engagement with construction industry bodies with a view to modifying elements of Transport Scotland’s standard contractual terms and conditions for such projects, to encourage more bidders to participate, which it says will generate improved competition and ultimately best value for the public purse.
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.”
Meanwhile, 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,” which is why, despite this work ongoing and expected to conclude before the end of this year, it is now clear that the A9 Dualling Programme will not be completed in full by 2025.
Ms Gilruth 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 went on to say:
”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.”