MORAY COUNCIL’S LEADERS have said that the decision to scrap the Elgin Western Link Road at a crunch meeting on Wednesday could cost the local authority £2.7million plus interest in repayments.
A tactical battle in the council chamber was sparked by Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor Douglas Ross, a long standing opponent of the link road plans who prior to the meeting insisted that the plan had to be scrapped as the Council pondered over an “unsustainable” Capital Plan budget.
When the key item came up for discussion that included a raft of projects to be altered or scrapped, the Tory councillor insisted that the West Link Road should be high on the agenda for scrapping.
However, council convener Allan Wright insisted it could not even be considered as a two-thirds majority would be required to suspend standing orders on a decision that had only been taken in November.
The issue was debated over 90 minutes both inside and outside the chamber as legal opinion was sought, before eventually, and faced with a motion that would see the entire capital plan decision being postponed for six weeks, Councillor Chris Tuke proposed that all Standing Orders be suspended to all decisions on every aspect to be considered.
When that succeeded by a 17-7 majority, Councillor Ross immediately moved that the Link Road be removed entirely from the capital plan – a move that succeeded by 13 votes to 11.
Following the meeting a Council spokesman said: “The £8.5m project was due to come before the planning and regulatory service committee later this year. If approved, it would have provided access for 200 affordable homes and a further 250 private housing in the pipeline.
“The new crossing was designed to cope with the projected growth in traffic numbers over the next ten years.
“As a result of the decision, if it can’t provide alternative access to the affordable homes site Moray Council will have to repay £2.7million plus interest to the Grampian Housing Association for land sold to the council for that purpose.
“There will also be developer contributions of £652,000 that will have to be reimbursed to house builders who may not now be able to develop areas that would have been serviced by the new road and crossing.”
Council Leader Stewart Cree, who had voted to retain the road plan, insisted that it was a “grave error” to abandon a project that had been approved as a council priority.
His view was supported by Councillor John Cowe, who pointed to the existing crossing over the Inverness to Aberdeen rail line which was already at 103% of capacity, adding that a new crossing “would have had major benefits”.
He added: “The road would have generated an estimated £6million in council tax revenues, and a potential boost to the local economy of £100million.”
Councillor Douglas RossDouglas Ross – correct decision
Councillor Ross, however, said that the decision was ultimately a correct one: “It was a long meeting with various deferrals and adjournments but ultimately we got to the correct decision.
“There have been people on both sides of this argument for decades – there have been false hopes for opponents before when planning permission was refused only for the project to be brought back in just a few days later.
“I have always said that it was the wrong proposal in the wrong location and today brings years of representing these views in the council chamber to an end.
“The dire financial situation led to the vote being proposed and the Western Link Road being scrapped. It was clear that this project, simply on financial grounds, could not be a priority over other projects while our capital plan was unsustainable.
“When the planning committee I chaired refused the application I thought the project had come to an end but it was quickly resurrected. The vote now taken by the council is clear and final, the Western Link Road is now scrapped and I know many people who have been campaigning against this for many years will welcome this outcome.”
Councillor Sean Morton
Immediately after the decision, Councillor Sean Morton admitted that the initial attempt to close any debate on the link road at the meeting was wrong, and that was why he supported the vote to suspend standing orders on the issue.
However, he supported retaining the link road on the Capital Plan. He said: “I am disappointed that the SNP and the Tories united to scrap the Western Link Road project.
“Yes, it was costly. Yes, it was unpopular. But it was the road to hundreds of new jobs, thousands of new homes and stronger Moray economy.”
Moray GreensJames MacKessack-Leitch – tribute to campaigners
James MacKessack-Leitch, convener of Moray Greens, has also been a long standing opponent of the link road and leading campaigner against it being built.
He said: “After 15 years and numerous changes it finally looks like the proposed Western Link Road has been dealt a fatal blow, and it’s one I wholeheartedly welcome.
“Almost 18 months ago the Council threw the proposal out on planning grounds, it has now been thrown out on cost grounds too. It is clearly inconceivable that the proposed Western Link Road which failed on both these counts could reasonably be resurrected again – and I hope the Council will stick by the decision they have collectively made today.
“In the context of the wider budget, this decision also frees up investment for many more worthwhile projects, and allows the Council to focus on what Moray actually needs.
“The scrapping of the proposals at this time has come as a bit of a surprise – my fellow campaigners and I were already gearing up to fight the next planning application expected later this year – however, if this decision means that we can get on with our lives then it is truly welcome.”
“At this point I would also like to pay tribute to those I have campaigned alongside, from across the political spectrum, as well as the hundreds of ordinary folk from Moray and beyond who have marched with us, written in, and supported our efforts.
“If anything, this is a victory for determined people power, and without the support of the vast majority of the community it is unlikely we would have come so far. I hope that now we can all move on from this chapter and work towards proportionate and lasting solutions for Elgin’s economic development and traffic management.”
For Moray SNP comments see SNP claim Capital Budget savings of over £8m