Former Scottish Government minister Alex Neil has rubbished claims that the dualling of the A9 by 2025 was only ever “aspirational.”

The ex-SNP MSP, who served as infrastructure secretary when the proposals were created, and the deadline set, described the delay to the road as a "betrayal" of the Highlands and Scotland.

The Scottish Government committed to widening around 80 miles of single-carriageway in 11 sections along the road in 2011.

However, only 11 miles in two sections have been dualled in the last 12 years.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross suggests UK Government could intervene to dual A9

Last year 13 people lost their lives on the A9, of those 12 were on single-carriageway sections.

In February, the then transport minister Jenny Gilruth told parliament that the ambition of dualling the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025 had become “simply unachievable”.

Last month, the First Minister admitted it would not be completed before the next Holyrood election in May 2026.

Humza Yousaf has insisted the Scottish Government is still “absolutely committed” to ensuring the road, which runs from Perth to Inverness in the Highlands, is converted to a dual-carriageway.

The Government is due to update MSPs on the overall timescale later this year.

Mr Neil was appearing before Holyrood’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee as part of their inquiry into the A9 dualling.

The former minister told MSPs that when he became infrastructure secretary in 2011 he told Transport Scotland that he wanted to link the seven cities in Scotland, Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling, Dundee and Aberdeen by "dual carriageway or motorway."

“And the reason for that was fivefold. Number one, to stimulate economic growth. Number two, to improve the overall productivity of the Scottish economy. Number three, to reduce emissions. Number four, social cohesion and inclusion. And number five, and last but not least, was road safety considerations.”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: A9 dualling will not be finished before 2026 election

He said he had asked officials to come up with a plan to achieve that, and the earliest date that it could be done. Though he stressed to the committee, he asked for this date to be realistic too.

“They assured me that both physically and financially, it was perfectly feasible to achieve the dualling of the A9 between Inverness and Perth by 2025, and Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030.”

He then read to the committee details of a “detailed schedule” from his time as minister setting out the “outline programme bit by bit for the completion of the A9.”

Addressing the delay, he said: “I think it’s extremely disappointing and very damaging to the Scottish economy, and even far more damaging to the Highlands and islands, that this well-thought-out project has not been completed, let alone on time.”

Fergus Ewing, who sits on the committee, and who has long criticised the SNP for delete, said Mr Neil’s evidence had been “informative, revelatory and really quite explosive.”

He referred the minister to evidence given to the committee in June, by a Transport Scotland official who claimed that it was an "aspiration"  to dual the A9 by 2025.

Asked if he agreed, Mr Neil said that was “utter rubbish”, adding: “This was not aspirational. A lot of work was done both before it went into the plan.

“Before they could advise me by 2025 was the reasonable date when we could do this financially and physically, they clearly had to do a lot of work themselves to work that out – and they did.

“I think one of the things that may have happened is that with the change in cabinet secretary, that my successors have perhaps not tracked this as well as they could.”

He added he “suspects the foot was well and truly taken off the accelerator”.

After Mr Neil moved to a different department, the role was taken on by Nicola Sturgeon. When she became first minister, the now SNP deputy leader Keith Brown took on the position. 

The ex-minister went on to say that the Scottish Government had “betrayed a promise” to rural communities by putting the A9 dual project “on the backburner”.

He said the lack of ambition on dualling the road was “mind-blowing.” He also suggested the delay could have something to do with the Green’s influence in government.

READ MORE: A9 dualling will not take until 2050, First Minister insists

Mr Neil said: "My understanding of the Bute House Agreement is that these road projects were excluded from the agreement.

“In other words, there was a recognition that the Greens oppose anything like this but they have no responsibility for it, in the government, thank god, and they would be able to veto progress on these projects.

"So if it is a result of a Green influence, that makes the situation even worse.

“This is about Scotland's economic future. I mean the north-east is clearly facing major challenges, I know it's a much richer area than other parts of Scotland, but clearly it has to diversify its economy because it's already in the transition away from oil and gas."