Campaigners battling to protect a north-east landmark from a multimillion pound dual carriageway project have taken their fight to the heart of Holyrood.
Members of the Save Bennachie group held talks with Economy Secretary Keith Brown and local MSPs at the parliament yesterday to outline their concerns.
They handed the minister a new 18-page report detailing their argument why the new A96 route between Aberdeen and Huntly should avoid the Garioch beauty spot.
Transport Scotland consultants are currently assessing the options for the eastern section of the £3billion road, with two of the potential routes passing close to Bennachie Forest.
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin arranged yesterday’s meeting with Mr Brown to press the campaigners’ case.
Bob Smith, from Save Bennachie, said: “It was a very positive meeting, well supported by the north-east MSPs and we thank Gillian Martin for putting it together.
“We had a full 40-minute meeting with him. He was very sympathetic to it. Obviously he was following procedure but he listened to what we were saying and received the report.”
The routes near Bennachie Forest have attracted widespread opposition, with the Save Bennachie campaign launched more than a year ago.
Ms Martin said: “We held a constructive meeting with members of the Save Bennachie group in parliament giving them the opportunity to speak directly to the cabinet secretary to outline their concerns.
“The group have been incredibly passionate about their cause and should be commended for their work on behalf of the community.
“Bennachie is an iconic landmark in the north-east and we must work hard to protect it and other areas of natural beauty across the region.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has given a clear commitment to completing the dualling of the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030.
“Following the appointment last July of a design consultant for the section between east of Huntly and Aberdeen, the route options assessment work is now under way and we expect to consult later this year on the options which are developed with a view to identifying a preferred option for the route in 2019.
“We are at the early stages of the design and assessment process and no route options have been identified yet.
“Meaningful engagement with communities and local groups, including the Save Bennachie Alliance, is a key part of our work as we develop the plans.”