After closing his final meeting the chair of Moray Council’s planning committee has declared that the question on if Councillors were listening to the people has been answered.
Councillor Douglas Ross was speaking after a two-day hearing that ended with the controversial West Approach Road in Elgin being rejected by a seven votes to six margin.
The £8.5million scheme has been the subject of years of controversy and would have seen Edgar Road extended to meet Wittet Drive, the construction of a new bridge over the main Aberdeen to Inverness rail line and new traffic signals linking the road to the A96.
However, a consistent and determined campaign against the proposals led by residents of Wittet Drive that saw almost 800 objections to the proposals lodged with planners and just 10 in favour finally won the day.
Councillor Ross and his Tory colleague Councillor James Allan joined with five SNP colleagues to defeat a plan that was backed by four independent councillors, one Labour and one Tory member.
“Today’s vote is a culmination of many years deliberations and for the campaigners who erected signs saying, ‘Are you listening Moray Council?’ – I think the planning committee showed them we were,” Councillor Ross said after the landmark meeting, his last after being ousted by the ruling Tory/Independent administration.
He added: “Planning applications are often controversial and divide opinion and this one was no different but for me, after hearing the public submissions and the responses from the applicant and council officers, I wasn’t convinced this road was the best way forward.
“A number of issues remained uncertain, including noise mitigation, projected vehicle numbers and safety aspects. These were just some of the material planning considerations that led me to move refusal of the application and a majority of councillors agreed.
“I’m in no doubt that doing nothing is not an option but this scheme, in this location was not going to deliver the benefits required to take such a monumental decision to approve the application.
“This saga has gone on for too long and now the planning committee, appointed by the entire council, has spoken. The Western Link Road is not the way forward and campaigners against the route must be commended for the case they presented.”
A long-running opponent of the plan, the convener of the Moray Greens, James MacKessack-Leitch, had spoken passionately against the road plan – one of dozens who did so on the opening day of the hearing.
He said: “Today’s decision is a triumph for common sense and people power. Despite having run on for over a decade, these proposals have consistently failed in a number of key areas surrounding noise, particularly at Greenwards Primary, the impact on landscape, and design and safety issues.
“There was also a failure to provide robust figures on traffic numbers and any potential economic benefits – all of which were highlighted in the objections, and by the passionate speakers in the public hearing, ultimately leading to the plans’ refusal.
“Following on from the libraries and more recent schools campaigns, this again goes to show that we really can make a difference to the way our Council is run and our services provided.
“I really hope that people will continue to participate in our precious democracy, and hold those in power to account.”
One of the leaders of the long-running campaign against the project, Caroline Webster of the Designing Streets Action Group, said: “We are delighted – this is definitely a victory for the community of Elgin.”