THE LEADER OF Moray Council has responded to claims made last week on insideMoray by the SNP opposition leader Gary Coull.
Councillor Coull was commenting on an article in the Scottish Housing News that quoted Craig Sirrat, the director of business development at Grampian Housing, assuring their continuing commitment to a housing project at Bilbohall in Elgin despite the removal of the Western Link Road from the Capital Plan.
That, Councillor Coull said, went directly against assertions by Councillor Stewart Cree, the Council Leader, that the local authority would need to pay around £2.7million in compensation to developers after the road plans were scrapped at a controversial Full Council meeting on March 30.
Councillor Coull said: “A figure of £2.7million compensation was bandied around for them to hide behind – yet Grampian Housing are making it very clear they are committed to this housing project!”
Last night Councillor Cree hit back at the charges laid by the SNP group, including those of scaremongering and wild speculation.
He told insideMoray: “At that meeting [March 30] members were provided with full information on all of the implications that the Council may face as a result of the decision not to continue with the WLR.
“Contained in those implications was the need to either provide a spur for access to the site for social housing at Bilbohall, at an approximate cost of £600,000, or to buy back the site from Grampian Housing Association at a cost of £2.7M plus interest.
“These risks were properly reported and, in highlighting them during the debate, I sought to ensure that members were fully aware of the potential for such outcomes. Indeed, in your report, I am correctly quoted as having claimed that Grampian Housing may abandon their plans to build affordable housing on the planned route.
“As the housing proposal forms part of the Moray Council Development Plan which also included, as a key element, the western link road and bridge it was not unreasonable to consider whether the abandonment of such essential infrastructure within Elgin might cause Grampian Housing to reconsider their plans for that area.
“I am, however, pleased to learn that Grampian Housing remain committed to developing the site and can assure your readers that we, as a Council, will do everything we can to ensure that this transpires. That said, such developments are predicated on planning consent and I would not wish to usurp the role of the Planning and Regulatory Services committee in determining the appropriateness of the development in light of the changes that will now impact on the Development Plan.
“It seems unfortunate that this particular part of the discussion has been the subject of such focus when the implications of departing in such a significant way from the Local Development Plan have not been given equal attention.
“For example, we were advised that there was a strong likelihood that some £625,000 of developer contributions may have to be repaid as a result of this decision which also fails to recognise the costs of the project to date of over £3.65M.
“The western link road has been assessed as having benefit to cost ratio of 2.5 which means that it is estimated that the local economy would benefit from 2.5 times the value of the investment in the completed scheme.
“It was clearly a wholly justified proposal which would return many times more than its cost to the local economy over the years. It is a great shame that the route became a political football which has now been kicked into touch by a decision that will deny much needed investment to Elgin to the benefit of all of those who live in Moray.
“I can only hope that, as the inevitable congestion continues to grow within Elgin, the value and sense of this proposal will be recognised and that, at some future time, the rational voice of the people will be heard in support of a proper traffic infrastructure in Elgin.”