THE MAIN OPPOSITION group at Moray Council is calling for an end to the Elgin West Link Road which they say would put too great a burden on the local authority.
Leader of the SNP group at the local authority, Gary Coull, said his group now has “serious concerns” over the price tag for the £11.8million project – and is highlighting that going ahead could cost Moray taxpayers £770,000 a year for 30 years.
That, with the Scottish Government getting every closer to dualling the A96, is too large a commitment to make with the Council already facing heavy cuts in services over the next three years.
What is not clear is if the SNP group will all vote against continuing the project when it is considered by the Full Council next week, with at least two of their number having abstained from votes on the issue in the past because of a “conflict of interests”.
Councillor Coull said: “The SNP has long expressed our concerns about the cost of this project and the need for it, especially when we see the progress being made on design of a dualled A96.
“The construction of a dual carriageway bypass of Elgin will radically alter traffic flow and I question whether this is the right thing to be committing over £750,000 in recurring spend when we know those changes are coming – particularly at a time when we know budgets are being squeezed and the Council Leader has said recently that there will be ‘substantial reduction in services’.
“I think that Independent Councillors need to seriously consider whether they want to increase borrowing costs by such a substantial amount given the detrimental impact this will have on other Council services and projects.”
With the two Labour councillors having expressed support for the link road, it remains to be seen if the stated opposition from the SNP group will be sufficient to halt the project next week.
However, opposition was underlined by the councillor who came within one vote of defeating the proposal to put the increased funding issue for the link road to Full Council.
The SNP’s Buckie councillor Gordon McDonald said: “When this project started so many years ago now the benefit-cost analysis was pretty marginal.
“With far faster than predicted progress on A96 dualling that surely changes the goalposts.
“That will undoubtedly significantly reduce the through traffic pressure in Elgin. Loans charges for the £11.8 million pounds now estimated would amount to a staggering £770k every year for 30 years. That being the case is this level of year-on-year spend to cover the borrowing really acceptable.
“I would say it is not and I urge the Administration to think again on their support for this extremely contentious project. While Elgin, like many towns, need traffic management improvements I do not believe this is the solution.
“No significant modelling has been done on how a north or south bypass would change traffic movement in Elgin and we could find ourselves having built a project that is not the improvement that was expected because the pressure has shifted elsewhere. It is beyond time to stop this project.”
Last night the Council’s Convener, Allan Wright, dismissed the SNP group fears insisting that tax income from new homes linked to the new road would “far outweigh” the additional costs.
Councillor Wright said: “The argument has raged in recent committee meetings on the issue – but as far as the cost is concerned, the council tax income from the new houses the link road will open up will far outweigh the initial cost.
“As far as I’m led to believe the timescale for the A96 bypass is still 2030 – and the A96 is not necessarily connected as has been stated to us by different government ministers.”