Highlands & Islands

Highland transport links 'must be improved', CBI Scotland chief urges

Image caption Iain McMillan said the loss of an air link with London Heathrow was unacceptable

The director of business body CBI Scotland has called for improvements to transport links to the Highlands.

Iain McMillan said work to make the A9 dual carriageway all the way from Perth to Inverness should be accelerated.

He also said the loss of an air link between Inverness and London Heathrow several years ago continued to be an unacceptable situation.

The Scottish government said it was taking taking "every possible step" to dual the A9 as quickly as possible.

The CBI Scotland chief was making the calls at a business dinner in Inverness.

'More ambition'

Ahead of the gathering, he said: "The Scottish government has indicated its intention to upgrade the A9 to dual carriageway.

"We support this investment as a means of unlocking the economic potential of the North, but the estimated completion date is 2025.

"That's not good enough and the Scottish government needs to be more ambitious and bring this project forward for earlier completion."

On air links, he said the loss of flights to Heathrow was unacceptable. BA stopped its service in 1997.

It has been suggested that if a planned third runway at Heathrow gets the go-ahead it could open the way for the service to resume.

Plans for the new runway are the subject of the Davies Commission, which is not due to report until 2015.

A9 upgrade

Mr McMillan welcomed planned rail infrastructure improvements and also £50m investment in the Sleeper that serves Inverness.

However, he said shorter journey times and other upgrades should be made.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We are taking every possible step to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness as quickly and efficiently as possible."

He added: "The A9 dualling is a colossal road engineering project and with that comes detailed planning to ensure we deliver a road that meets the aspirations of all the communities and road users along its length.

"The Scottish government agrees with CBI Scotland that it is absolutely vital that access to Heathrow is secured for Scottish flights and the loss of an Inverness-Heathrow connection was undoubtedly a blow to the Highland economy."

He added that work on the Caledonian Sleeper franchise, and investment of more than £100m, was intended to give the historic service the "21st Century future" it deserved.

In June last year, the Scottish government said a £3bn programme of work to make the A9 dual carriageway all the way from Inverness to Perth would start early.

The improvements will begin by 2015-16, rather than 2017-18, with an enhancement of the Kincraig to Dalraddy overtaking lane south of Aviemore.

The full project is not expected to be completed until 2025.

There are about 80 miles (128.7km) of single carriageway between the cities.

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