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A96 dualling set for north of Forres

By Staff Reporter

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ASSOCIATE members of Forres Community Council (FCC) were left "disappointed" after a meeting with Transport Scotland about the proposed dualled A96.

Alan James and Mike Miller met with representatives of the Government agency to discuss their detailed evaluation of the assessment report which prepared by Mott Macdonald SWECO, the consulting engineers appointed to decide which route the road will take from Hardmuir to Fochabers.

Alan James (Left) and Mike Miller - at the new railway bridge in Forres which demonstrates how high the A96 dualling section will have to be. ..Picture: Daniel Forsyth. Image No.043723.
Alan James (Left) and Mike Miller - at the new railway bridge in Forres which demonstrates how high the A96 dualling section will have to be. ..Picture: Daniel Forsyth. Image No.043723.

Despite the expectation from a number in the community that this would go south of the town and connect with housing developments expanding from Grantown Road, the preferred route to bypass Forres is the north route.

Mr James said: "A meeting was held at Buchanan House, Glasgow and it was expected that the FCC evaluation report would be commented upon. The disappointment arose because Transport Scotland were not in a position to comment on the evaluation as they were waiting on SWECO to review and comment on the document. To date we still await Scottish Transport to comment.

"No further consideration or action can be made by FCC until this happens."

Concerns were raised regarding: the environmental impact during construction; the visual aspect upon completion; the cost to the tax payer; connectivity to the existing infrastructure; and the effect that the north route may have on the traffic flows within the town of Forres when compared to the non-preferred south route.

FCC's evaluation report was sent to Scottish Transport on April 30 for comment so that the watchdog group would be in a better position to fully understand any implications for the community and, if necessary, either accept SWECO's assessment report or highlight any further concerns.

The issue was discussed at FCC's last meeting.

Chairman Graham Hilditch said: "Mike and Alan argue that Transport Scotland's evaluation of the A96 and the route selected for dualling as a result is flawed. SWECO compromised Transport Scotland's standards and practices, and their scoring wasn't fair so Mike and Alan are pushing for a third party technical audit to review the methodology of the initial process.

FCC will then weigh up the arguments for the different routes. We may ask the Finderne protest group along to a meeting - they got in early and built a good case for the route not to go south."

He added: "Mike says taking the north route would have a negative effect on Forres as the traffic volume on St Catherines Road and Market Street would vastly increase. During and after construction, there would also be major disruption and pollution on the existing road too.

"Mike and Alan felt their meeting was unsatisfactory and that they had been fobbed off. Transport Scotland will only listen to their consultants but the pair still aim to persuade Transport Scotland that SWECO's evaluation was flawed and needs to be reviewed."

Moray Council member George Alexander claimed Transport Scotland does not take the effect of its road-building on communities into consideration.

He pointed out: "Land at Waterford was zoned by Moray Council for industry but it will now be used for the north route instead. Transport Scotland have made up their mind - they will not change it."

FCC member Graham Murdoch said: "They've chosen the shortest route so they're not interested in anything else."

FCC secretary Shaun Moat added: "We need to act now and make the community aware of what is going to happen on St Catherines Road if the north route is taken."

Transport Scotland explain that the north option was chosen in December 2018 because: it provides better journey time savings; it is located close to existing infrastructure and has less adverse landscape and visual effects; it has less impact on ancient woodland and less risk of disturbance to areas of nature conservation; it does not affect woodland used by the community; it provides better opportunities to facilitate active travel; there is less requirement for the crossing of, and alterations to, minor watercourses; it avoids potentially contaminated land at the former RAF base in Forres.

A spokesman said: "Following a robust evidence-based assessment, including extensive public consultation, we are currently talking forward the detailed development and assessment of the preferred option which will culminate in the publication of draft orders for formal comment. All comments received following the preferred option exhibitions held last December will be taken into account and help shape the ongoing detailed development and assessment of the preferred option. A response to Mr James’ comments on the route option assessment report will be issued shortly.

"When completed, the preferred option will provide better transport connections in Moray and to the wider transport network, bring relief to communities currently affected by through traffic and save over 20 minutes for road users travelling between Hardmuir and Fochabers."

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