Architects have been appointed to draw up an ambitious vision for a major multi-million pound housing project in Elgin.
About 300 homes could eventually be built in the Bilbohall area of Elgin, with the former hospital transformed and footpaths put in to link the site to the new high school.
Plans for the 20-acre site have been in the pipeline for more than a decade, and had previously been discussed in parallel with the controversial £11.8million Western Link Road project.
When the roads scheme was finally rejected earlier this year, there were fears the housing project would not come to fruition.
But now Moray Council has hired Edinburgh-based Optimised Environments to draft up the masterplan for the development.
As well as the houses, sports facilities could also be included, as well as a bridge over the railway to create a new route from Edgar Road to Wards Road.
Trees will be planted to blend in with the existing woodland, and Bilbohall Road will be widened to cope with extra traffic.
The blueprint will be used to shape the development on the site for years to come.
Last night, news that the project is moving forward was welcomed.
Councillor John Divers, said he was relieved to see the development take a step forward after fearing it had been “kicked into touch” with the Western Link Road.
He said: “This is something that’s been talked about for the last six or seven years. It’s been running with the new Elgin High School and Western Link Road but has been taking a long time.
“The big thing is to make sure the roads are fit to accommodate them. The Western Link Road was going to be the gateway into that but since that was kicked into touch it will have to be looked at again.
“At the moment the only way to get in there is from Edgar Road. The roundabout there is regularly gridlocked so there may need to be a bridge or entry with other housing estates.”
His fellow Elgin South representative Graham Leadbitter added: “Originally it was thought that this couldn’t be developed without the Western Link Road, but there are obviously alternatives that will come out of the masterplan.”
Housing firms Robertson Homes, Scotia Homes and Grampian Housing have joined the council in the development.
Optimised Environments was chosen by the authority over seven rival bids, for a £100,000 contract to examine the constraints of the land and examine possible transportation connections.
The design firm has previously designed major developments at Craibstone, Stoneywood and Countesswells in Aberdeen.
Moray Council’s brief for the Bilbohall contract was to address the issues of the land in an “ambitious yet realistic, achievable and sustainable manner”.
The Bilbohall masterplan will follow similar blueprints that were developed for Elgin South for 2,500 houses and the Findrassie proposals for 1,500 homes.
Last night the council’s communities committee chairman, George Alexander, called for at least a quarter of the Bilbohall properties to be made affordable to cope with the authority’s housing waiting list.
Mr Leadbitter added: “We are still in the position where we need far more affordable housing in Elgin. There’s a huge demand and a long waiting list of 3,500. It’s really important to deal with that.”
Mr Divers said: “People are always asking why we are building more houses. The bottom line is developers wouldn’t be building them if there weren’t people to move into them.”
A Moray Council spokesman said: “It is likely this area will accommodate more than 300 houses and part of the masterplan work is to examine the constraints of the site, these include transport connections.”
Optimised Environments was unavailable to comment.