Hundreds of residents have turned out to view the latest plans to dual the A96 – and their response has been mixed.
The first of four public exhibitions have taken place, giving people a first look at the updated options for the 26-mile stretch between Huntly and Aberdeen.
Transport Scotland has urged residents and community groups to give their views as the Government body pushes forward with its aim of declaring a preferred route before the end of the year.
The number of options have been reduced by Transport Scotland, with two potential routes north of Inverurie dropping out of contention.
Transport Scotland is pursing six different options which could see as many as seven grade-separated junctions built, including at Colpy and Kintore.
The remaining option north of Inverurie bypasses the town near the existing road, linking the B9170 Oldmeldrum Road and the B9001 Rothienorman Road, near Portstown area.
A96 Action, a campaign group calling for the Scottish Government to carry out upgrades on the existing route rather than build a new road, says whatever option is chosen will destroy the countryside.
Mel Roberts from the group said: “A96 Action is very pleased to see the blue and green routes north of Inverurie have been deselected.
“In our view, however, this does not address what we consider to be a core issue with the north route – the carving out of potentially 26 miles of new grade-separated dual carriageway through some of the richest farmland and most beautiful countryside to be found in the Garioch.
“We have also had it confirmed this route would require a 600-metre-long bridge across the Don Valley at Tavelty, an area rich in wildlife, including many protected species.
“By comparison, the AWPR Don crossing is 270 metres.
“We continue to call for the reinstatement of the existing A96 dual corridor as the optimum route for dualling and otherwise upgrading, to address the objectives of improving safety, congestion and shortening journey times.”
Another resident who attended the exhibition was Stephen Goodwin, from Kinmuck.
He said: “I think a lot of stunning countryside is going to be lost. It feels very destructive.”
Garry Nicholl, 39, from Colpy, also hit out at the current options. He said: “It is a joke. I don’t know how we are able to afford this project.
“The Government’s own study said improvements could be made along the existing road.”
However, a number of residents expressed their delight at certain options being dropped.
Peter Wrangham, from Meikle Wartle, said: “We would have sold our house if the deselected routes had gone ahead as they came very close to our home.
“We are happy they have been deselected.”
David Burt, project manager for the A96 dualling project, said Transport Scotland was keen for residents to share their opinions on the routes.
He said: “We have had a varied response from people.
“We have some people who are pleased we have reduced the number of routes, others are providing feedback on current options and how it is affecting their individual land.”
Mr Burt added: “We are working with the A96 Action group. We are looking to have a meeting with them so we can discuss their concerns further.
“We want people to come to the exhibitions so we can get their feedback face to face and attendance has been quite high.”
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Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, said: “The Scottish Government has given a clear commitment to dual the A96, which will see delivery of around 88 miles of upgraded road between Inverness and Aberdeen, a huge task but one we are committed to delivering.
“As part of that dualling programme, we are taking forward the design work for the 26-mile stretch of the route between Huntly and Aberdeen.
“Having let local communities see and comment on a series of options last October, we have now reduced the number of options for this challenging section of the A96 and have made some changes to the options being taken forward as a result of the feedback we have received.”
A second exhibition at Wyness Hall in Inverurie was scheduled to take place today before moving to Kinellar Community Hall in Blackburn tomorrow and the Gordon Arms Hotel in Huntly on Friday.
All are from noon to 7pm.