Scottish Secretary accuses Nicola Sturgeon of “broken promises” over A75

FREIGHT companies say they have been “let down” by the Scottish Government and are considering moving their business away from Scotland due to a lack of progress in upgrading two vital trunk roads. Firms based in Northern Ireland say they are disappointed with the failure to improve the “dangerous” A75, which leads from Cairnryan port to the southwest of Scotland and beyond. Ferry firm Stena Line has also appealed directly to Nicola Sturgeon to “seize the moment” and upgrade the road, warning that a failure to do so will be “letting the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland down”.

During a visit to Belfast yesterday, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack met with firms who use the ferry link across the Irish Sea to discuss their concerns, and has also accused the Scottish Government of reneging on its promises. It comes after a major review conducted by Sir Peter Hendy for the UK Government found the A75 was the most in need of upgrade of anywhere in the country, as it was so critical for transport between the four nations of the UK. PM promises strategic transport network across UK after Union review published

Stenaline was involved in the talks, while P&O Ferries was not invited due to the firm’s recent decision to sack all of its employees and replace them with low paid workers from abroad. It is understood P&O was originally due to join the discussions until the sackings earlier this month. Speaking to The Herald, Sarah Hards of AM Logistics, explained her firm has suffered due to the state of the A75, with current roadworks causing a 40MPH speed limit, reducing the amount of driving time truckers are able to do.

She said around 40 per cent of the journeys from Cairnryan now require a “rescue” vehicle to be deployed, and another driver to take over due to the 9 hour time limit for HGV drivers. She added: ” We’re based in Larne, we should be shipping out of Larne as much as we can but because the A75 is in such bad condition, it’s pushing us to look at other alternatives. “Everything in transport, you run it to the last mile, up to the last minute because that’s how you make profit and its the most cost effective way for your customer …If we have to send out rescues, that cost s passed on to our customers, and ultimately on to the consumer.”

Nick McCullough, managing director of Manfreight, which also uses the vital route, said he wanted to double the number of employees based in Cairnryan but will not do so while the road is in its current condition. He said: “The road for a long time has not been fit for purpose – a majority single lane with speed restrictions, a very dangerous road. Because we deal in agri-food, our product is time critical.

“We employ over 80 drivers at Cairnryan and we want to double that, because we want to help the economy and we employ local drivers in the areas that we’re based nut because of the road not being improved, we are looking at other links, such as Birkenhead instead.” Stenaline’s trade director Paul Grant, asked what he would say to Nicola Sturgeon if given the chance, replied: “Now is the time to make progress. It looks like there’s commitment from Westminster.

It feels like there’s an opportunity with the Union Connectivity Review. “I don’t think we’ve ever been in a more optimistic place and we should seize the opportunity because if we don’t we will be regretting it for the next 30 years. We would be letting the people of southwest Scotland and Northern Ireland down.”

Mr Jack said the majority of those he spoke with “described the southwest as the forgotten corner of Scotland.” The Scottish Secretary said: “The broken promises are a factor. 
“We were told by Stena Line that in 2008 when they and P&O spent GBP200m, encouraged to do so, on Cairnryan and the new setup for the ferries, the Scottish Government said they would do their bit and upgrade the A77 and A75. “Alex Salmond said it in a speech, Nicola Sturgeon then later reinforced it, and yet nothing has been done.

“It was also the case back in 2015, they promised GBP8million pounds to be spent on Stranraer, on the old ferry terminal site, when they were trying to get Richard Arkless elected. Stranraer hasn’t seen a penny of that since. “Peter Hendy, in his review, said that the A75, was brought up as road needing upgrade more than any other road in the UK.

“He describes it as not fit for purpose, and that’s what it is. It’s just not fit for purpose.” The Scottish Secretary accused Holyrood ministers of failing to grasp the need for the upgrade from a trade perspective and said: “What the Scottish Government has failed to see is it’s not just about tourism…but it’s also trade for Northern Ireland into the north of England, and from the north of England and Scotland, back in to Northern Ireland.

“That’s why it’s important – it’s also important for Scottish jobs.” Mr Jack said that similarly to the way in which the Scottish and UK Governments have managed to reach an agreement on the introduction of freeports, he would like to see the two working together more closely on transport infrastructure improvements, namely the A75. He said: “We want to sit down and work with the Scottish Government, for the good of all citizens in the United Kingdom and recognise that connectivity is a United Kingdom issue, not just a devolved issue, and we will be sitting down with other devolved administrations as well.

“The key is for us to agree to work together, as we’ve done, finally, on freeports.” A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Union Connectivity Review was set up without meaningful consultation with the Scottish Government.  Transport is devolved to Holyrood, and the UK Government should respect that.  “We have set out proposals for future investment in the Scottish road network through the recommendations from the recently published Strategic Transport Projects Review.

We have also made clear that we would be very willing to discuss funding from the UK Government to enable our shared objectives for the A75 to be progressed.

“We need to explore more constructive ways of engaging across the UK which do not undermine the devolution settlement.”