BUSINESSES, politicians and community campaigners are calling for routemap to be set out showing when and where improvements to the A75 and A77 will be delivered.
The call to the Scottish and UK Governments to show how action will follow pledges came at a special summit at which the safety, environmental and economic cases for improving both roads were highlighted.
About 50 people – including cross-party MSPs, senior councillors and business leaders – attended the Safer, Greener, Better: A75 / A77 summit at the North West Castle Hotel in Stranraer today (Monday).
They heard about the frustrations of drivers along the roads and the dangers they regularly witness.
Organised by the South West Scotland Transport Alliance (SWSTA), it was the first time in a number of years that such a broad cross-section of organisations has come together to shine a spotlight on major issues facing communities and focus on what needs to be done.
The event was chaired by Liz Cameron, Director and Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
Port operators Stena Line, P&O Ferries and Belfast Harbour are the SWSTA’s founding members.
Andy Kane, Regional Ports Operations Manager for Stena Line, said: “We are in a better place now, with progress towards improvement works, particularly on the A75, but there is still a lot to do.
“The full potential of south west Scotland cannot be unlocked until these roads are upgraded.
“It’s time for ministers at Holyrood and Westminster to sit down with businesses, local politicians and others to offer the detail on when and where work will begin to make these roads safer, greener and better.”
The UK Government recently pledged £8m for Transport Scotland through its Union Connectivity Review to conduct a feasibility study on bypassing the villages of Crocketford and Springholm along the A75.
The Scottish Government, meanwhile, has highlighted a series of potential improvement projects along both roads as part of its second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2)
And, while they point towards progress, delegates at the summit – which counted Dumfries & Galloway and South Ayrshire Councils and the chambers of commerce in both regions among its supporters – highlighted growing demands from communities for pledges to be met by action.
Laura Gilmour, Irish Sea Ports Director for P&O, said: “We welcome the progress being made. But what we need now is assurances about physical work beginning, including the detailed programme for the feasibility study on Springholm and Crocketford.
“That would be progress. But it should be followed immediately by a delivery timetable.
“The A75 and A77 century are two of the five slowest A-roads in Scotland – they can be made safer, greener and more fit for 21st century needs.”
There is a casualty every three days on the A75 and A77 – and nearly two tonnes more carbon dioxide is emitted on these roads every day than on other comparable routes as drivers face stop-start journeys which include slowing to pass through villages and towns.
Lorry driver Steven Wylie, of Dumfries, spends hours every week on the A75, travelling to and from Cairnryan for haulage firm Manfrieght.
A video featuring one of his journeys – a two-hour 45 minute, 100-mile run from Gretna to Stena Line’s port – was played at the summit to highlight the challenges (see notes to editors).
Mr Wylie said: “This road certainly isn’t designed for the amount of traffic that’s using it. That’s why it needs the money spent on improving it, upping the speed limit for HGVs as well, making it a smoother, faster route.
“Everything is time in this job. If this road was 50mph for HGVs, you could save anywhere between 35 and 40 minutes of driving time.
“If there are any accidents on this road, you’re pretty much stuck on it.”
Fiona Barnes, a driver with McBurney’s, regularly hauls loads along the A75 and A77 for drop-offs at P&O Ferries in Cairnryan. Her experiences were also highlighted at the summit.
She said: “Frustration is what causes accidents along these roads. We can be sitting bang-on 40mph and have cars overtaking on chevrons and double-white lines.
“These roads need investment. It will make everything safer. Driving along these roads can be like a game of Russian Roulette.”
An economic impact study commissioned by Dumfries & Galloway, South Ayrshire and Mid and East Antrim councils last year found that dualling the entire A75 and A77 could deliver £5bn of “positive benefits” to the economy.
Councillor Gail Macgregor, the Leader of Dumfries & Galloway Council, emphasised the case for improvement in videos played at the summit.
Standing by the side of the A75 in Crocketford, she said: “It’s really important that local, Scottish and UK governments – and our partners – all get around the table and find a resolution that will really unlock massive potential for Scotland by improving these roads.”
Councillor Martin Dowey, Leader of South Ayrshire Council, is a former police officer who has dealt with the devastating aftermath of accidents on the A77.
He said: “I’ve unfortunately been to numerous fatals along this road. This is a bad road which is not fit for purpose. Nobody enjoys driving it.
“This road is a main artery for Scotland, but it’s like a dirt track. It’s bad enough until you get to Girvan, but south of the town it’s dangerous, it’s not well maintained and the road doesn’t seem to get any money.”
Business leaders share the political views and are backing calls for action.
Claire Baird, Chief Executive of Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “A safer, better A77 will bring with it significant benefits to Ayrshire’s economy and environment – not just in protecting jobs locally and further afield, but bringing with it the potential to unlock opportunities to create more and in attracting greater numbers of people to visit our region.
“As it stands, this is a road which is bad for businesses and communities.”
The broad economic impact of improving the roads was also highlighted by Michael Robinson, Port Director of Belfast Harbour, to which Stena Line sailings to and from Cairnryan run.
He said: “The importance of the A75 and A77 should not be under-estimated. These are critical connections for haulage and tourism. Making them safer and better would undoubtedly help protect lives, jobs and encourage investment.
“The case for change is clear. We – as part of the SWSTA – are keen to continue working with ministers and politicians from all parties and parliaments to ensure that improvements can be delivered.”
Issues raised at the summit will be examined by the SWSTA to compile a series of asks to the UK and Scottish Governments to explore how the improvements identified can be delivered. Details of those will be shared in the weeks ahead.
MSPs who attended the event were: Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries), Sharon Dowey (South of Scotland), Emma Harper (South of Scotland), Colin Smyth (South of Scotland) and Brian Whittle (South of Scotland).