The soaring cost of the divisive Elgin Western Link Road project has been approved – by just one vote.
Despite calls to delay the project until it is seen what impact the A96 dualling has on traffic in the town, councillors backed the revised cost of £11.8million.
Last night opponents of the controversial scheme vowed to continue their fight, and accused Moray Council of making an “irresponsible decision” during a time of impending cuts.
Yesterday, SNP members pleaded for the authority to place the project on hold until officers could gauge the effect dualling the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen road could have on the project.
Buckie councillor Gordon McDonald also voiced concerns over the £770,000 the Western Link Road would cost annually to maintain.
He said: “Until more information is known about the dualling of the A96, and the impact it may have on the existing road network, we should hold off on any decisions.
“This would cost £770,000 each year, during a time of constraint in our budgets.
“We need to make sure we have all the facts available before we commit future generations to these costs.”
But Heldon and Laich councillor John Cowe said a crash in the town this week highlighted the urgent need for an extra relief road.
Town centre traffic ground to a standstill as police cordoned off a large chunk of the A96 after a crash involving a cyclist on West Road.
Mr Cowe said he had to leave his car in the town as he waited in the interminable traffic, and was consequently late for a medical appointment.
The administration member added: “There was total gridlock in Elgin on Tuesday, I had to abandon my car and walk to the hospital – which made me 40 minutes late.”
Mr Cowe went on to stress the economic benefits he believes the scheme will bring to Elgin.
He added: “With the creation of new houses to the south and north of the town, this road could help bring in £4.5million every year in council tax.
“It will create economic opportunities in Elgin and in Moray.”
Last night campaigners against the Western Link Road described the council’s decision as “appalling” and vowed to continue to fight the plans.
Objectors say the route will create unacceptable noise in residential areas and cause children at Greenwards Primary School to suffer from pollution.
Wittet Drive resident Caroline Webster said: “This is shocking expenditure for a council speaking about making huge cuts, and I don’t see the justification for it.
“Deciding on this before the dualling of the A96 seems to be an irresponsible decision, and a lot of us have lost all trust in the council.
“We have concerns this won’t pan out in our favour, but we will keep fighting.”
Revisions were made over the summer, after Moray Council and Jacobs consultancy representatives met with some of the proposal’s fiercest critics.
The Western Link Road proposal was initially rejected by the council’s planning committee last November – only for it to be revived less than a fortnight later on the proviso that the concerns which saw it axed were addressed.
This summer council representatives met with some of the programme’s most ardent nay-sayers to work out changes to the design.
Those changes contributed towards costs increasing by £2.6million, but soothed some objections.
Campaigners say the amended plans have tackled some safety fears – but they remain “fundamentally” opposed to the scheme.
Work on the new planning application is ongoing with a view to it being lodged early next year.