NICOLA Sturgeon has apologised for the failure to dual the A9 on time as she insisted the Scottish Government has not “messed up”.

The former first minister pointed to a “whole range of circumstances, many beyond our control” which meant work on the project is unable to be completed by the original 2025 date.

Sturgeon was deputy first minister in 2011 when the Scottish Government committed to fully upgrading the road, which runs between Perth and Inverness, to dual-carriageway by 2025.

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In December 2023, the Government admitted this was not achievable, saying it will be 2035 before the work is complete.

Holyrood’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee is investigating the failure to meet the 2025 target, and Sturgeon told MSPs on Wednesday that date was one ministers had been “absolutely committed to in good faith”.

But she said: “The 2025 target was always a massive mountain to climb, and to get to the summit of the mountain by 2025 was going to require everything to go our way.

“We then had certain things that didn’t go our way.”

She cited factors such as the Covid pandemic and the impact of austerity on the Scottish budget as adding to the “inherent complexities” of the project.

Sturgeon described upgrading the entire length of the road as being like “11 major projects in one,” but she told the committee the Government had pursued the work with “drive and determination”.

She said: “We just have encountered along the way significant challenges. Some of them foreseeable in a project of this scale, but many of the others that were encountered (were) not foreseeable at the time the 2025 target was set.”

She said that by 2017 or 2018, it was realised “there are significant hurdles” to completing the project on time, but it was “only at that late 2022, early 2023 point it was clear there was no viable route to 2025”.

Sturgeon said: “We were so determined to try to find a route that maybe we didn’t tell ourselves quickly enough that that wasn’t there.”

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SNP backbencher and Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing (above) told her the failure to complete the road by the 2025 timetable had caused “dismay and concern” in the Highlands, as he called for an apology from the former first minister.

Sturgeon told him: “I am sorry that we won’t dual the A9 by 2025. I regret that and I think people in the Highlands have every right to feel the way they do about that, not just because it was a target that was set and not met, but the nature of the project and the reasons for the commitment to dual the A9 were so serious in terms of safety, and obviously the loss of life on the A9 is a matter of deep regret for everybody.

“I want to be clear though that I do not accept that the failure to meet that target is because we just didn’t bother, and we weren’t trying to meet that target.

“The 2025 target was set, and it was set for the right reasons and we were committed to it.”

Conservative MSP Edward Mountain claimed Sturgeon had been “dishonest” about the fact the work would not be completed by 2025.

The former first minister told him: “To say we were just being dishonest I think is not the case.

“If we were guilty of something, at that point it was trying our hardest to find the route to 2025, and perhaps taking too long, we maybe just took too long to accept it wasn’t possible.

“But if that is the case it was for the best of reasons.

“Everybody who has or who knows someone who has lost someone on the A9, my condolences and heart goes out to every single person in that position.

“The dualling of the A9 has been a priority for the Scottish Government, it has encountered significant challenges.

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“But I don’t believe it is the case we are sitting here today because Government just didn’t give it enough priority.”

While she said “different decisions might have speeded things up to some extent,” she does not believe there was anything the Government could have done that would have made the 2025 target date achievable.

Sturgeon said there will still be “challenges along the way” with the revised 2035 timetable, but she told MSPs: “That to me looks like a programme that will succeed and I think it is absolutely essential it is given the priority to ensure that it does.”