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Elgin and Keith bypasses at risk of ‘more A96 backtracking’? Moray councillors worry about outcome of A96 Corridor Review

By Lewis McBlane

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MORAY councillors have raised concerns that Elgin and Keith bypasses, on which First Minister Humza Yousaf’s gave a "cast iron" pledge last year, could be felled by "more backtracking".

Councillors Sandy Keith and Amber Dunbar raised concerns about the future of road improvements in Moray.
Councillors Sandy Keith and Amber Dunbar raised concerns about the future of road improvements in Moray.

And a young Elgin councillor has said that she wonders whether the A96 will be dualled "even in my lifetime".

The ongoing A96 Corridor Review, agreed in 2021 as part of the SNP and Green power-sharing deal, could threaten the Scottish Government's pledge to dual the trunk road by 2030.

More than a year has passed since the original December 2022 deadline for outcomes to be released.

Bypasses for Elgin and Keith were agreed by the two parties in the Bute House Agreement along with a dualled Inverness to Nairn bypass – separately from the review.

The SNP and Greens struck a deal to "take forward a transport enhancements programme" that "will include" the Moray bypasses.

However, Transport Scotland confirmed that plans to take the A96 out of Elgin and Keith are in fact included in the wider review.

The news has raised questions over the Scottish Government's commitment to the agreed bypasses.

“Well, this surprises me," Councillor Amber Dunbar (Conservative, Elgin North) said.

“If that is what Transport Scotland have said – that seems like more backtracking.

“First they commit to dualling the A96 then, in partnership with the Greens, that's them backtracked on dualling.

“And now it’s the bypasses."

Plans to bypass Elgin have been a talking point for more than 80 years, and the Northern Scot led the Have a Heart – Give us a Bypass campaign more than two decades ago which took the issue to the Scottish Parliament.

Long-standing Elgin bypass campaigner Councillor Sandy Keith (Labour, Elgin North) said he could: "smell a rat with the current situation".

Cllr Keith, Labour group leader, suspected that the Scottish Government would use the General Election as an excuse to avoid announcing a decision.

"The SNP are clearly trying to string the people of Moray along – hoping they can hide behind the rules where no major announcements can be made during the election period," he said.

"This real concern underscores the necessity for publication now.

"The SNP Scottish Government has had 17 years to progress the clear need for both an Elgin bypass and Keith bypass as well as dualling of the A96.

"It has singularly failed in this task.

"Not one inch of dualling in Moray has been approved by them – because they don’t care for the transport needs of this part of Scotland.

"As a long standing supporter of an Elgin bypass, I am seriously concerned at the lengths the Scottish Government is going to frustrate the economic, social and environmental case for one."

Questioned about the pledge, during a visit to Moray last year, Humza Yousaf said: "What is there in the Bute House Agreement hasn't changed, won't change".

Asked directly about the bypasses, he said it was "quite clear what we have committed to", and pledged to not move "one inch" on pledges and described them as "cast-iron".

Hear what the First Minister said below:

Cllr Dunbar said: “If they are saying it's a cast-iron commitment, then I would like to see them getting on with it,"

“I'm only 27 and sometimes I wonder if I'll see it dualled, even in my lifetime.

“It is the first political thing I can remember – it is certainly the biggest issue I can ever remember in Elgin, and it’s the one that has been kicked down the road longest.

“Traffic congestion in the town is one of the biggest complaints that I get.

“But as welcome as any bypass would be, anything less than full dualling of the roads, for me, is not good enough."

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month, the First Minister said "members with an interest" in the A96 would be briefed by Minister for Transport Fiona Hyslop on the "wider A96 corridor" on January 25.

However, this was later revealed to be a one-on-one meeting between Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing which failed to address any A96 improvements in Moray.

The Scottish Government claims that delays are down to the volume of responses to an earlier consultation exercise, which generated more than 11,000 options.

And advice to ministers it set to be delivered “imminently”.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: "As we have made clear on a number of occasions, including through our Programme for Government, the Scottish Government is committed to improving the A96 and we will take forward an enhancements programme along the A96 corridor that improves connectivity between surrounding towns, tackles congestion and addresses safety and environmental issues.

"The current plan is to fully dual the route and, as part of this process, we are undertaking a transparent, evidence-based review of the programme, which includes a Climate Compatibility Assessment and other statutory assessments.

“The significant interest in the review’s initial consultation last year, with nearly 4600 responses, generated 11,000 options to improve the corridor and it’s only right that appropriate time has been taken to examine and fully appraise these.

"We have been pushing forward with the detailed appraisal of the retained options and expect to provide advice to Ministers on the emerging outcomes from the robust appraisal process imminently.

"There will then be a consultation on the outcomes before a final decision can be reached.”

Cllr Dunbar accused the Scottish Government of wasting money on the A96 Corridor Review.

“We're talking about budgets, but delays to reviews also cost the taxpayer money," she said.

“And it would be better to put that money into the capital spending rather than just delay after delay.

“Get actual work done to the roads, that would be a far better use of the cash.

“People just want to see tangible results and timescales.

“If they're not going to do it – they need to tell us that they're not going to do it and if they're going to do it, they have to tell us when."

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