HC Deb 21 November 1973 vol 864 cc1325-7
16. Mr. MacArthur

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his latest estimate of the cost of improving the A9 Perth-Inverness road; and when the reconstruction work will start.

Mr. Younger

In 1972 the preliminary estimate of the cost of the new road from Perth to Inverness was £43 million. In addition there is a major scheme for the A9 north of Inverness, creating a shorter route across the Black Isle. Work at the Almond Bridge, near Perth, started on 19th November; work on other schemes will follow shortly.

Mr. MacArthur

May I thank my hon. Friend for the good news that this important work has now started? Will he confirm that the rebuilding of the A9 will completely remove the blind corners and other impediments to vision? Further, will he confirm whether I am right or wrong in calculating that this investment approaches £400,000 per mile?

Mr. Younger

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is indeed good for the Highlands to see at last a complete and major reconstruction of this vital road. I can confirm that it will be built to the most excellent modern standards, ironing out all the bad bends and bad gradients which have caused so much difficulty so far. I am afraid that my mental arithmetic is not quite so agile as my hon. Friend's but his calculation of the cost per mile is probably very nearly correct.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that not everybody agrees with the increasing investment in roads at the expense of the railways? The railway line in this area carries a great deal of freight, and will increasingly carry much more of the heavy freight as a consequence of North Sea oil development. The Government's public investment programme would be much more worth while if it were redirected towards rail rather than towards roads.

Mr. Younger

That is a very interesting point, but questions regarding investment in rail are really not for myself and are for my hon. Friends who deal with rail policy. I would say only that I honestly think that, with the development of North Sea oil, the area around the Moray Firth will need first-class road and rail links. This Government are providing first-class road links for the first time.

Mr. Maclennan

If the Minister recognises, as he apparently does from his reply to the last Question, that the oil-related development in the Moray Firth area calls for an improvement in the roads, why does he not now put into the Government's rolling programme the scheme for bridging the Dornoch Firth and rerouting the A9 north of Tain?

Mr. Younger

I know of the hon. Gentleman's very strong interests. As he knows, my right hon. Friend recently announced that further studies were being made. I would say only that we accept that the Dornoch bridge is a desirable project which will have its place in the programme. But I do not think anyone can accuse the present Government of being niggardly with money for the A9. It is a massive scheme which those in the Highlands have wanted for a long time, and I hope they will feel that it is all worth while.

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