Plans to renew the bid for the creation of a west approach road in Elgin have sparked fury throughout Moray.
A decision by the economic development and infrastructure committee threw the door open on the £8m+ project that was rejected just two weeks ago by members of the planning committee.
Six administration councillors were supported by Labour member John Divers in sending the entire issue back to Full Council – rejecting a move by the SNP opposition and ousted Tory planning chairman Douglas Ross that the local authority now concentrate on a road linking new housing developments in Elgin and a new High School.
Councillors accepted an argument by officials that the plans had already gone too far to be dropped – and that a renewed scheme should be placed before the planning committee taking account of the reasons for rejection earlier this month.
One of the main opponents to the plans, Moray Greens convenor James MacKessack-Leitch, last night pointed to the already high costs of the project – and insisted that the current council administration “couldn’t care less for the democratic process”.
Pointing out that the project has already cost Moray £3.8million since it was first raised in 2007, Mr MacKessack-Leitch said: “This decision is a travesty of democracy.”
He added: “The decision to press ahead with the Link Road proposals barely a fortnight after it was refused planning permission will leave many shocked, if not surprised, and shows that those in power in the Council couldn’t care less for democratic process.
“Having witnessed the passion, sense, and volume of objections to the plans, I cannot see how this proposal can return to consideration in its current form, but this is not to say that we should support a do nothing option.
“There have been perfectly acceptable options presented in the past – incremental improvements, and a new access for new affordable housing and the High School – which are entirely sensible and proportional.
“Instead, it appears that elements within the Council are simply not interested in even investigating alternatives, but arbitrarily decree that the Western Link Road must be progressed regardless of social, environmental or economic cost.”
The Greens leader added that elected members on Moray Council now had some serious questions to answer on why over £3million has been “frittered away on this project before a shovel has even been lifted” – in particular at a time when tough financial decisions have had to be faced.
A recommendation will now go to Full Council next month – a meeting where the SNP opposition has already said it will seek a vote of no confidence in the council leadership.
The new recommendation will seek to instruct council officers to work towards the submission of an amended planning application as soon as possible while addressing the grounds for refusal of the original application.
Clouded in controversy from the start, the proposed route has been designed to link Edgar Road and Wittet Drive with the construction of a new road bridge over the Aberdeen-Inverness railway line.
Administration councillors insist that the road has been identified as a strategic project both in terms of easing traffic congestion on Elgin’s roads network and in promoting economic development within the town.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting the committee chair, Councillor John Cowe, said that although it had been widely reported and assumed that refusal of planning permission meant the western link road project was at an end, that was not necessarily the case.
He said: “In planning terms, the council is no different from any other developer when an application is refused, inasmuch as any such developer would look at the refusal and how the reasons for it can be mitigated in a revised application.
“If the western link road project is to progress, an amended planning application would have to be submitted. That approach is the one I would urge members to adopt.”
Councillor Douglas Ross, who chaired the public hearing at which the original application was rejected, moved that the decision of the planning and regulatory services committee should be accepted, signalling the end of the western link road as a strategic project.
The motion, seconded by SNP Councillor Gordon McDonald, also sought to seek approval of Full Council for an alternative structure that would serve the new Elgin High School and a future housing estate.
However, an amendment to reaffirm commitment to the project and to recommend that commitment to Full Council, moved by Councillor Allan Wright and seconded by Councillor Fiona Murdoch, was carried seven votes to five.
There was an angry reaction to the news last night from insideMoray readers, with many expressing feelings that the Council had once again ignored public opinion.
Carol Allan said: “This is awful, so much for a democratic voting system. I wish all these councillors would step down and we would see how much confidence the people have in them if they re-stand.”
Jenni Coelho added: “How ridiculous. Another case of certain councillors bulldozing all their own ideas through at whatever cost and with total disregard to the supposed democratic process – what a sham.”
Sue Winstone called for a public rally outside Moray Council HQ to let them know exactly what people thought of their decision making. She said: “I think we need a rally outside the council offices to make visible the discontent and lack of confidence the electorate feel about the whole council.”
Veronica Sinclair meanwhile expressed anger at the recent events in the council chamber: “What is it with that power crazy lot commonly known as Moray Council?
“They have a reshuffle by sacking one, another resigning and then a game of musical chairs – bviously Mr Wright is now happy as he is managing to slowly erode the administration of all those who voted against him in regards to the link road.
“This really needs to be investigated, that wee man and his cronies are really ‘extracting the urine’.”