The route proposed by transport officials for the dualling of a major north-east road has been branded “not fit for purpose”.
The new A96 would be 22 miles long with six grade-separated junctions and crossings over the River Don, River Urie and the Aberdeen-Inverness railway.
It would deviate significantly from the current road in some places, particularly between Kellockbank and Pitscurry, as well as around Inverurie.
Government officials believe the route will offer “improved journey time and reliability” between Aberdeen and Huntly, Elgin and Inverness – but opponents have blasted their choice,
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald insisted any new route should stick as closely as possible to the existing road and questioned its environmental impact.
And he slammed the route as being “not fit for purpose”.
Mr Macdonald said: “In this time of climate emergency, the Scottish Government should be sticking as closely as possible to the existing line of route in any road upgrades, and they should be able to show why any such investments should take priority over such vital tasks as double-tracking all of the east coast railway line between Aberdeen and the central belt.
“While I am glad that this announcement rejects the most irresponsible proposals for building a new bridge in the flood plain at Kintore to enable a new road to the north of Inverurie, it still fails to stick to the existing line of the A96 and involves building many miles of brand new dual carriageway where no major road currently runs.
“Transport Scotland has also failed to review their plans in light of the carbon emergency or the principles which allegedly underpin the Scottish Government’s transport and infrastructure strategies.
“They have not shown why the brand new single-carriageway stretch of the A96 at Inveramsay is suddenly not up to the job, nor have they demonstrated how actual or projected traffic volumes can justify building a dual carriageway between Pitcaple and Huntly.
“This brand new dual carriageway through rural Aberdeenshire is a 20th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. It is the Scottish Government’s responsibility, and it is not fit for purpose.”
However, Lorna Anderson, chair of campaign group A96 Action – which has repeatedly opposed plans for the rerouting of the road – said the new route was the “least damaging” of the options and said it would be an “enormous relief” to residents.
However, she also said there would be “no winners”, and reiterated the group’s position that the existing road should be upgraded.
“We fought our fact-based campaign on the grounds that the existing A96 through Inverurie could and should be upgraded, as opposed to tearing up miles of unspoiled countryside,” she added.
“Whilst we still prefer this option, we do recognise that with the addition of new and redesigned junctions the orange route is the least damaging bypass option, and the one which best meets the scheme objectives.
“It has been a long, tough and involved campaign, only made possible by the amazing dedication of the A96 Action group’s committee members.
“We have been so fortunate to have such highly qualified and committed people give an enormous amount of their time and expertise to our campaign. We will continue to monitor the situation and be ready to act should the need arise.
“Whilst we celebrate, however, we should remember that there are no winners in this process and we truly empathise with the residents along the remaining route selections.”
Previously, an appraisal of several different route options was carried out, and the planned new route would follow parts of each.
Based on the options which were put forward, the new road would consist of the cyan route option between east of Huntly and Colpy, the pink route option between Colpy and Pitcaple and the orange route option between Pitcaple and Kintore.
At Kintore, the road would join up with the existing route.
An eight-week virtual consultation will now be carried out – and residents are being urged to have their say online.
Gordon MP Richard Thomson admitted he felt options to route the road to the north of Inverurie could have been considered to ease pressure on the nearby A947.
He said: “I welcome the publishing of the preferred route and the progress it represents with this key infrastructure project for the north of Scotland.
“With the virtual public exhibition now live for eight weeks, I’d urge constituents to take time to study the plans and to make sure that they provide their feedback to Transport Scotland.
“I know that many people will be disappointed at the rejection of a route to the north of Inverurie given the potential benefits it could have brought to alleviating pressures on the A947.
“The task now on that route will be to look again at the interventions outlined in the existing A947 route strategy and to try to deliver as quickly as possible on those which can make a difference to safety and journey reliability.”
Scottish Government transport minister Michael Matheson said: “We are continuing to progress our ambitious plans to dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, delivering around 88 miles of upgraded road.
“As part of that programme, we have been taking forward the route option assessment work for the section of the A96 to be dualled between east of Huntly and Aberdeen and we are now able to let the public see the preferred option for this scheme.
“Following detailed assessment work and consideration of feedback received throughout the design development process, we have identified a preferred option which will include improved journey time and reliability for all trunk road traffic, improve road safety and provide opportunities for active travel.
“It will also provide better transport connections to Aberdeen city and between communities in Aberdeenshire as well as the wider strategic transport network.
“We are keen to let locals and road users have their say on our proposals and I would encourage anyone interested in our plans to view the virtual exhibition and give us their views.
“As we develop the preferred option in greater detail, individuals, communities and businesses affected by the work will be kept fully informed and their vital feedback taken into account.”
To access the virtual exhibition and have your say, visit transport.gov.scot