One of Aberdeenshire’s most iconic landscapes could be at risk from ambitious plans to upgrade the A96, it has emerged.
One of the four proposals being considered for the A96 project – labelled Option C – is a planned dual carriageway between Blackburn to just north of Huntly.
The stretch of road would pass by Kintore, Insch and Oyne – and come close to the Bennachie Forest and the iconic hill range.
Bosses at Transport Scotland admit that Option C is “unlikely to avoid” the “high quality” environment around Bennachie and would have a greater impact on the landscape than other options.
Last night, West Garioch councillor Patricia Oddie – a trustee of the Bennachie Centre and lifetime member of the Bailies of Bennachie – said it was a “catch-22″?” situation.
She added: “Looking at option C I think that it would have a high impact on the visual aspect of Bennachie. It is a very iconic series of hills and it is the most treasured landmark, not only locally but in different countries. It is indicative of the north-east.
“It would have a high impact on the hills. It is like a catch-22, because the A96 needs to be done. We need it (the dualling) to happen. At the same time we want – and I am sure Transport Scotland also want – to mitigate any visual impact.”
Engineering firm Jacobs is carrying out a preliminary assessment on the dualling project on behalf of Transport Scotland.
It is thought the current A96 road would remain as it is between Inverurie and Huntly if Option C is given the go-ahead.
A Transport Scotland report said: “Option C passes through a relatively high quality landscape and dualling is predicted to present greater risk of impacts than corresponding parts of Option B.”
Transport Scotland wants to dual the 99-mile route between Aberdeen and Inverness in order to improve safety and traffic congestion by 2030.
The road is single carriageway for 86 miles north of Inverurie towards the Highland capital.
The head of Aberdeenshire Council’s Garioch area committee, councillor Fergus Hood, said all options were currently “aspirational” .
He said the long process of implementing the AWPR Balmedie to Tipperty bypass was an example of how long it could take to begin the project.
He said: “This is a long-term project. It is scheduled for potential delivery by 2030. I would say that it is aspirational at the moment.
“With the AWPR, it took years and years and years to get through all of the legal stuff and then there were all the legal challenges. And this is a much bigger project than the AWPR.”
Yesterday a spokesman for the Forestry Commission – which manages the Bennachie landscape – said it was still “early days” for the proposals.
He added: “We have been made aware of the proposals and the beginning of the more formal consultations around them. We are interested to know more and will be attending one of the community consultation events today.
“We should say at this stage that it is early days and the proposals are still to be further developed.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said they were consulting with the Forestry Commission, adding: “This huge job requires careful, in-depth planning and design so we deliver the right scheme and help tackle congestion, make journey times more reliable and, crucially, improve road safety for all along the route.
“As part of the early work we have undertaken a strategic environmental assessment to assess the constraints, issues and opportunities for dualling the A96.
“The outputs from this assessment will inform the next stage of design development.”
Others proposals include option D – a smaller eastern bypass connecting Inverurie and the Glens of Foudland, and Option N – a bypass between Forres and Fochabers.
Option B largely follows the current A96 route with route changes around Inverurie, Elgin and Forres.
Transport Scotland is preparing to move towards the second stage of its planning process for the dualling – a route option assessment.
It is currently carrying out public consultations on the plans to gauge public opinion, and will be in Leys Hotel, Blackburn tomorrow from noon until 7pm and in the Kintore arms Hotel, Inverurie the same time on Thursday.