The UK Government has given its clearest indication yet that it will press ahead with badly-needed improvements to the A75 despite opposition from Holyrood. It is now fully prepared to bypass the Scottish Government by directly funding major transport infrastructure projects north of the border.
Michael Gove, UK Housing and Communities Minister, is expected to give the green light to recommendations contained in Sir Peter Hendy’s union connectivity review.
He will signal the go-ahead to a package of measures – including an upgrade of the A75 Euro-route between Gretna and the ferry terminal at Cairnryan – in the coming weeks.
The direct approach has been welcomed by Finlay Carson, MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, who has led the campaign to make the A75 fit for purpose.
He said: “I dare say that such a move will no doubt anger the Scottish Government given that roads are a devolved issue but it has now got to a point where people are running out of patience. They want the work done and really don’t care who picks up the bill.
“The SNP Government has had every opportunity to bring about investment in this key arterial route but has repeatedly failed to deliver. How many times have they promised to improve the road infrastructure, yet it never happens.
“They keep saying it will be included in the South of Scotland Transport Review but there is still no sign of that being published. Even then it could be 10 years down the line before any work takes place- if at all.”
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP fears the SNP’s new alliance with the Scottish Greens will also throw any upgrade into serious doubt given its commitment towards ditching any major road network improvements in the near future unless compatible with climate change aims.
Mr Carson continued: “The SNP Government refused point-blank to become involved in the review process by instructing its officials at Transport Scotland not to attend any of the meetings.
“They were prepared to turn down funding towards improving the A75 despite knowing what a crucial role it plays to both the Scottish and national economy.
“There is only one word to describe their actions – pathetic!”
A video outlining the importance of the A75 was screened at this week’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Highlighting a powerful case for improvements, Grant Shapps, UK Secretary of State for Transport, backed Sir Peter Hendy’s vision for a transport network that befits modern Britain.
He said: “What springs to mind when I mention the A75 Euro-route – it might make you think of a shining highway with multiple lanes, a major traffic artery smoothly delivering the commercial lifeblood of this country.
“Incredibly here’s the reality. The A75 is a twisted ribbon of potholed tar stretching from the ferry ports of Cairnryan to Gretna and the M6 in the east.”
The ferry port, he added, provided a critical link moving people and goods from Northern Ireland to the UK. The biggest hurdle was not the 12 miles distance between Co. Antrim and Wigtownshire – but the A75.
His comments were backed by a spokesman for Stena Line who insisted the £200 million investment in upgrading the port in 2011 had created a 21st century terminal – only to be hindered by 20th century roads such as the A75 and A77.
In stark contrast, anyone arriving in Northern Ireland immediately benefits from modern dual carriageways all the way to the south.
The A75, the ferry spokesman added, was unsafe, unreliable and unpredictable despite being used by more than 400,000 vehicles annually.
Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland, accused the Scottish Government of being content with promoting a sclerotic transport system.
He continued: “Even when presented with the change to engage with a truly transformational document that is Sir Peter Hendy’s union connectivity review it has refused to get on board and improve the lives of all our citizens.
“I firmly believe that its right for the UK Government to consider the big picture to see the transport corridors that Sir Peter sees as pivotal to whole being of every man, woman and child in this country.”
The Scots Secretary continued: “It is estimated that 45 per cent of Northern Ireland’s entire trade moves along the A75 only a short-sighted separatist government such as the one in Edinburgh could object to the UK Government offering to transform this and other roads like it.
“Our track record in delivering for Scotland is second to none and now we want to deliver on Sir Peter Hendy’s vision of a new era for roads, rail, sea and air transport.”