Claims by Moray Council that Scottish Government planning experts are backing plans for Elgin’s west link road are being dismissed by the Councillor who led their rejection last year.
In a press release issued by the local authority on Thursday the leader of Moray Council, Stewart Cree, said that a report on the Moray Local Development Plan by Scottish Government Reporters recognised the road improvements as “necessary to facilitate the local development plan strategy”.
Councillor Cree said: “This independent assessment confirms my view that a new railway crossing, and the link road to it is vital to manage increasing traffic numbers.
“The Scottish Government’s Reporters are established experts who take an objective view on all planning matters, and I for one welcome their support for retaining the link road project in the Local Development Plan.”
The council leader based his comments on a section of the report that considers unresolved objections to particular development aims of the council.
The report, prepared by Reporters appointed by Scottish ministers appointed to consider 714 unresolved representations made to the Local Development Plan, says that the plan “…makes it clear that this [link road] remains a necessary component of the strategy to ensure that the traffic impact of proposed development on this side of town is appropriately mitigated.”
Their report added: “The link is considered necessary over and above the separate proposals to dual and upgrade the A96 which is being progressed under the auspices of the Scottish Government. The devaluation of property, whilst understandably a concern to neighbouring residents, is not a valid planning consideration.”
Listening to opposition
However, Councillor Douglas Ross, who was the Chairman of the Planning Committee when the road plans were rejected last year, said that while Councillor Cree was entitled to an opinion it did not take any account of the hundreds of people who continue to oppose the link road plans.
He said: “When the council proposed the Main Issues Report local people were told not to comment on the Western Link Road as it was already in the local plan – and when the plan came forward for adoption objectors were clear that the main way of stopping this road was presenting a strong case to the planning hearing.
“They did that with sound arguments and solid facts only for the refusal decision to be over-turned a few days later.
“Councillor Cree is entitled to his opinion but I have to say I am more inclined to listen to the views of hundreds of people who opposed the road, who marched against it and question the logic and costs involved rather than a Scottish Government reporter who has looked at this issue alongside every other element in this Moray wide local development plan.
“When you look at the specifics of the application we considered at the hearing last year it was very easy to find fault with the proposals – and depending on what exactly comes forward from the council when they re-submit their application I expect another through examination of the plans by councillors.
“A couple of paragraphs in a reporter’s findings seem to have been seized upon by the council as a green light for their plans to spend millions on this road.
“I prefer to listen to people in Moray including those directly affected by the proposals when I consider the pros and cons of an application.”
Moray Greens meanwhile are pointing out that the link road had previously been removed from the Local Plan – with their convenor, James MacKessack-Leitch, insisting that the report produced by the Reporters demonstrated only that “the Scottish Government cannot be trusted to look after the interests of local residents”.
Mr Mackessack-Leitch added: “The case for the road has never been made, and while it is not a surprise to see that the Council is prepared to push ahead with the scheme against the community as it has done for over a decade, it will be disappointing for many to see the Scottish Government accepting the Council’s version of events and barely acknowledging the overwhelming public opposition.”
“Ultimately this decision is nowhere near an end to the saga, I fully expect that the public will be rightly dismayed at this latest development, and that opposition to the project will continue to grow – particularly as costs continue to mount.”