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Three big infrastructure tasks awaiting new Scottish leader Humza Yousaf | New Civil Engineer

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Humza Yousaf was formally appointed as first minister of Scotland this afternoon after succeeding Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the Scottish National Party.

The former transport minister, who turns 38 next month, put a number of infrastructure policies at the heart of his election campaign.

He has described his new position at the helm of his country as “the biggest honour of my life” and pledged to serve “all the people of Scotland”.

But with more than three years until the next scheduled general election north of the border, what are the biggest infrastructure challenges in Yousaf’s inbox?

  1. Get A9 dualling done

It is 12 years since ministers promised to upgrade the A9 from Perth to Inverness by 2025, a project seen as critical for communities in the north of the country.

Yet just last month transport minister Jenny Gilruth had to admit to Parliament that the much-hyped target was “simply unachievable”.

Covid-19, Brexit and the war in Ukraine were all trotted out as factors impacting the funding, planning and construction of the 130km scheme, with Transport Scotland tasked with reporting back to government this autumn on possible ways forward.

All the SNP leadership contenders featured the £3bn A9 scheme in their campaigns, with Yousaf saying he would bring “urgency” to the task.

Now he will be judged by many on his ability to turn talk into action and get the troubled project over the line.

  1. Stop the saga at the Rest and Be Thankful

A Traffic Scotland update states that the so-called Rest and Be Thankful pass will operate under traffic signals throughout today (28 March) and tonight – a depressingly familiar state of affairs for drivers who would have more gratitude for movement.

This problematic section of the A83 north-west of Glasgow is more than 200m above sea level and has been prone to landslides for over a century.

In fact there have been 47 such events since 2007, with two in particular in the summer of 2020 displacing about 16,000t of material from the hillside. Weather conditions and other data sets are now monitored daily to decide whether the road is usable.

An Atkins-WSP joint venture was last year named preferred bidder for a £25M job to work up detailed designs and plans for an overhaul of the road. Transport Scotland later noted “the need to move quickly” on this project.

Campaigners have demanded a permanent solution by May next year, giving Yousaf little over 13 months to make a positive impact in this area.

  1. Secure Rishi’s support for Coire Glas

While he has taken the reins at Holyrood, it remains to be seen how influential Yousaf can be in Westminster.

One test that awaits is the challenge of securing UK Government support for the proposed Coire Glas pumped hydro project.

Developer SSE Energy this month committed a further £100M to the development of plans for the massive power scheme on the shores of Lock Lochy, which has the potential to double Britain’s electricity storage capacity.

But the firm’s finance director Gregor Alexander warned that it remained “critically important” that Westminster “urgently confirms its intention” on financial support for such projects.  SSE has called for income stabilisation measures such as an adapted cap-and-floor scheme to support investment.

Yousaf has called for the Scottish Government to take an equity stake in offshore wind projects but it could be his ability to influence his peers south of the border that makes the biggest difference to his energy legacy.

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