Transport Scotland denied claims yesterday that the discovery of a Neolithic settlement would delay a long-awaited bypass on the A96.
The Scottish Government body said the Fochabers bypass, estimated to cost £19-25million and take two years to complete, “remains on schedule to meet the timescale recently announced”.
Campaigners have waited decades for work to begin on the Fochabers scheme, which will divert traffic from the village’s narrow High Street and Mosstodloch, and speed up the flow on the main Inverness-Aberdeen road.
It was finally approved by Scottish ministers after a six-week public inquiry in September and October, 2003. An appeal lodged at the Court of Session by objectors was dismissed in 2007, clearing the way for work to start after years of delay.
Transport Scotland recently issued a statement announcing that two companies had been selected to tender for the project and a contractor would be appointed in late summer 2009, with work to start soon after.
A three-year plan shown to Moray councillors on August 15, 2007, reiterated Transport Scotland’s intentions to start work by the end of 2008 or early 2009, with completion expected by late 2010.
In a recent letter to Lennox Community Council, MSP Richard Lochhead said the discovery of an important Neolithic site, which had previously been undisturbed, had been made over the summer.
His letter said further archaeological work would need to be carried out “in the coming months”, causing concern for a local action group about the start date of the project.
There were also protection measures to be made for the stained-glass windows in the Gordon Chapel at Fochabers in advance of the work, which Mr Lochhead said had also been responsible for the recent delay.
Hamish Moir, chairman of the Fochabers Bypass Action Group, was angry that they had not been told earlier about the Neolithic site.
A spokesman for Transport Scotland said yesterday that archaeological work would be carried out on the Coal Brae site in parallel with the tender process and would not delay progress on the bypass.
Gavin Cameron said background work had been carried out, including clearing the site and dealing with “sensitive ecological issues”.