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£20million Forres retail park plans rejected

Susan Paton with grandaughter Lily Ross, Community Clr Eleanor Hayward, Mr Bert Logie and Clr Aaron McLean all give the decision the thumbs up
Susan Paton with grandaughter Lily Ross, Community Clr Eleanor Hayward, Mr Bert Logie and Clr Aaron McLean all give the decision the thumbs up

Residents in a Moray town were celebrating last night after councillors voted to reject controversial plans to build a major retail park.

The £20million scheme for Bogton Road in Forres was unanimously dismissed by the local authority’s policy and resources committee yesterday.

Aberdeen-based Redco Milne’s project promised nearly 500 local jobs across eight retail units, a supermarket, a drive-through restaurant and an 80-bedroom hotel.

But councillors heard that the development – which would have forced Highland League Forres Mechanics FC out of their Mosset Park home – could leave the local authority out of pocket and voted against the “risky” proposal.

The wrangle over the project has rumbled for nearly a decade, and although yesterday’s decision has still to be rubber-stamped by the full council, objectors believe an end to the saga is in sight.

Resident Eleanor Hayward helped lead the crusade against building the retail park on common good land, and said the development would have been the “death knell” for town-centre trade.

Mrs Hayward said: “We have been battling this for years and I have to say I’m delighted now it might never go ahead.

“The retail park would have been a death knell for the town, and if that is now shot to flames then I hope we will see more retailers look into opening premises on the High Street.”

She added: “But our battle is not over until the war is won, and I’m waiting until it goes before the full council before I can relax about it.”

Redco Milne pledged the local authority £6.5million for the control and use of a 4.4-acre site for 35 years.

However, the council’s head of development services, Jim Grant, said the firm’s recently revised plans for the complex included the proviso that Moray Council would meet any losses the development incurred.

He explained that if more than two of the retail units were left vacant then Redco Milne would struggle to cover site costs, and the council would have to “mitigate” against that.

Forres member Anne Skene warned the committee that the scheme could sap council funds.

She said: “Now is not the time to embark on unpredictable, high-risk projects.

“The common good fund could be completely drained by this, and the council could find itself in financial difficulty.”

After yesterday’s meeting, Forres councillor Aaron Mclean said it was unlikely the full council would overturn yesterday’s decision.

Mr Mclean said: “The risk for the council is too high at the moment, this is just not something the council can do when money is tight.

“Those risks will still be exactly the same in two weeks time when the full council meets, and it looks like every group on the authority have made up their mind it’s best to leave it.”

But Forres Mechanics FC chairman Dr James Anderson said the club would have “uncertainty hanging over it” until the November 11 meeting.

Dr Anderson said: “This has been an uncomfortable seven years of uncertainty, and I fear this still may not be the end of it as the developers may not be keen to give up this easily.

“We really do look forward to the day this is put to bed, one way or another, so we can develop our club.”

Redco Milne first sought permission for a multimillion-pound project on the common good land in 2008.

In the past the group has stressed the potential benefits the retail park would bring Forres.

The company was contacted for comment yesterday but failed to respond.

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