BUSINESS leaders across Scotland have raised serious concerns over a push to scrap the £6 billion dualling of the A9 and A96 to free up cash for public transport, insisting the upgrades are “not a luxury but a necessity”.

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, urged ministers “not to compromise our future prosperity” in the name of climate change and insisted the projects were of “critical importance”.

She said: "The last thing business needs right now is for any major U-turns, particularly with our transport infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Stewart Nicol, chief executive of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce, warned the move would have a “hugely detrimental impact” on the local economy, and argued transport upgrades are needed to support tens of thousands of potential jobs in the booming offshore wind sector.

It comes after the Scottish Greens raised the prospect in a letter to SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, setting out the party’s proposals ahead of the Scottish budget.

The support of the Greens has allowed the minority SNP administration to pass its last three budgets.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the backing of his party this year would depend on commitments to decisive action to lower Scotland’s emissions.

He said the Greens were “determined to see a transformative shift in public investment away from trunk road expansion and upgrades, and into public transport and cycling and walking infrastructure”.

He added: “Funding could be freed for such initiatives by re-profiling or cancelling planned expenditure on trunk roads such as the duelling of the A9 and A96 and the proposed £120m Sheriffhall roundabout [in Edinburgh].”

In response, council leaders and business chiefs have now issued an open letter to the Scottish Government seeking its “continued commitment to delivering the A96 and A9 upgrades”.

The dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness is due to be completed by 2025, while the A96 upgrade between Aberdeen and Inverness is expected by 2030.

Mr Nicol told The Herald on Sunday businesses in the Highlands are leading the way on tackling climate change.

He said: “What we don’t have is the basic transport infrastructure, and our concern is that that lack of connectedness to the rest of Scotland gets caught up in this kind of debate that’s going on politically.

“And as we look to dual the A9 – yes, we know that’s got a carbon cost, if you like, but that just gets us to the base level of where we need to be as a region.

“And if it was delayed in any way at this stage, that would have a significant impact on our economy and our region.”

Mr Nicol said the Highlands are “a window to the world for what Scotland can offer”.

He added: “But underpinning all of this is transport infrastructure.

“Although we’re digitally connected globally, we still basically need to communicate and travel to other parts of the UK and the world.

“And this is where the basic lack of transport infrastructure comes into play.

“The dualling of the A9, the A96, the upgrading of the Highland Main Line, our air connectivity to Heathrow, to London, to Europe, is all massively important to us.”

He said the Chamber of Commerce is “actively engaged in the offshore wind cluster that’s been developed for the north of Scotland”.

He added: “There are potentially 20 to 30,000 really highly paid jobs, each of them earning serious money, that could spin off from the offshore wind developments that are going to happen across the whole of the Highlands and islands.

“To be able to support that we need a basic transport infrastructure, and it’s just not there.”

Ms Cameron said the road upgrades are “not a luxury but a necessity” and any calls on the Government to consider reversing them “must be rejected”.

She said: “This piece of infrastructure [the A9] is not only about increasing much needed capacity, it is Scotland’s longest trunk road and gateway to the Highlands, and the A96, a key transport corridor essential for Scottish exports, must be taken forward to ensure the future of rural communities and their economies.”

Mr Nicol is one of eight business leaders and politicians, including the leaders of Highland and Moray councils, to sign the open letter to Mr Mackay and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson.

It reads: “We understand it’s easy for some to simply call for a blanket end to road projects, but as we look to tackle climate change, we need to ensure that the right decisions are taken to connect our cities and towns, and support those living and working in rural areas.

“Addressing inadequate road infrastructure in the north of Scotland should not be a casualty at the hands of those who have far greater transport choices.

“The calls to scrap these upgrades are extremely short-sighted at best and would be a barrier to strong progress on renewable energy and forestry growth."

David Richardson, development manager for the Highlands and islands at the Federation of Small Businesses, said most firms understand the need to transition to a low carbon economy.

He added: “But that doesn’t mean we should cancel overnight vital transport projects, like the dualling of the A9.

“Residents and businesses in the north would be dumbfounded if this critically important project didn’t go ahead.

“It is as much about improving safety and making the north an attractive place to work and live as it is about boosting GDP."

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, who represents the Highlands and Islands, said the open letter was right that “communities in the Highlands are indeed frustrated with long stretches of traffic crawling through them”.

He added: “But we have known for many years that increasing the size of our roads doesn’t make that better.

“In fact, we’ve known since the 1960s that more road infrastructure leads to more traffic.

“There is a difference between improving our roads and making them bigger, and the money would be far better invested in improving public transport through the Highlands, linking our remote and marginalised communities and giving greater mobility to those who perhaps can’t afford a car.

“If that happened, the commercial vehicles mentioned that are needed to expand low carbon industry across the region would not be gridlocked in traffic.

“It’s time we built the economy of the future in the Highlands, instead of repeating the mistakes of the past.

“I hope the Scottish Government can see this, especially as they have conceded it is a climate emergency.”

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said the Government is “committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, underlining its commitment to connecting Scotland’s cities with a high quality transport system that will sustainable generate economic growth”.

She said: “When complete these ambitious programmes will bring many benefits to local communities, businesses, visitors and road users living, travelling and working along the routes including reduced journey times, improved journey time reliability and, crucially, improve road safety for all users.

“Work to deliver our ambitious A9 dualling programme is continuing across the route.

“Construction of the second section to be dualled between Luncarty and Birnam is progressing well and at the same time, design work continues at pace with eight of the remaining nine dualling schemes now subject to the statutory process.

“Design work is also well underway on the A96 dualling Programme.”