Distillery bosses have blasted plans to cut through their land to dual the A96 – and warned it is the “wrong site” for future growth in the area.
Transport Scotland yesterday revealed its preferred option for dualling the road between Hardmuir and Fochabers is north of Forres.
But the proposals cut right through the northern section of the Benromach distillery site, which has been earmarked for a major expansion.
Owners Gordon and McPhail already have permission to build 11 new cask warehouses on the site, but were last night considering their next move.
Last night, bosses said the proposals were not only a “serious issue” for them but also the “wrong” choice for Forres – and would hamper further developments in the town.
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Managing director Ewen Mackintosh said: “We are deeply disappointed at the decision to push ahead with a route which will cut across our site at Benromach.
“This is not just a serious issue for us at Benromach. We believe it is the wrong site for the future growth of Forres. It will limit sustainable commercial development close to the railway station in an area which was earmarked for growth.
“It also misses an opportunity to open up the south of Forres for further development.
“In light of the route announcement, we will be considering our future plans and next steps.”
The multi-million pound project aims to have the road between Aberdeen and Inverness fully dualled by 2030, slashing journey times.
The preferred option for the latest phase of the work goes north of Forres, south of Elgin and north of Fochabers and includes seven grade-separated junctions, as well as new bridges over the rivers Findhorn, Lossie and Spey and the railway line.
At a public exhibition in Elgin yesterday, the response was mainly positive with many locals happy to see progress finally being made to curb traffic problems in the town.
Others were pleased to see previously-mooted routes, such as the one through Pluscarden Valley, off the table.
Transport Scotland selected the north Forres route based on a number of factors, and believe it will have less of an impact on ancient woodland and other nature conservation areas.
Craig Cameron, the organisation’s A96 dualling programme manager, said the team will be holding discussions with Benromach about the proposed route.
He said: “It does touch the northern extent of their site but that is the engagement that we will carry forward.
“We are fully aware of the distillery site and aware of their aspirations to develop the site and will speak with the distillery and engage with them.”
Forres councillor George Alexander, who lives beside the preferred route, also does not believe transport bosses have made the right decision.
He said: “The north route is the wrong choice, as they will be building this through good agricultural land.
“They will have to raise the road several foot up in the air and they will have to cart in as phenomenal amount of materials.
“There are several reasons they should have chose the other route – and this is not just a personal opinion because I’m going to be looking out on the road, as someone would always have to.”
The proposals will be on show for the rest of the week, at Mansefield Hall, Elgin today; Speymouth Hall in Mosstodloch tomorrow; and Forres Town Hall on Friday. They all take place from 12pm-7pm.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson urged people to go along and have their say, and hailed the benefits the route will bring local people.
He said: “The preferred option will provide better transport connections in Moray and to the wider transport network, bring relief to communities currently affected by through traffic and save over 20 minutes for road users travelling between Hardmuir and Fochabers.”