THE long-running legal saga over the future of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) could be coming to an end, following the rejection by the Court of Session of a legal challenge mounted against the project.
Progress on the £400m project to build a dual carriageway around the city had been delayed by separate challenges from John Weir Fraser, Mrs Maggie Fraser and the ‘Roadsense’ group, which argued that the public inquiry, held in 2008, had been flawed.
Their appeal was rejected on Thursday by Lord Tyre, on the grounds that objectors had been given ample opportunity to make their representations. However, objectors in the case, which has cost over £100m to date in land procurement and legal fees, could yet mount an appeal against the decision.
Subject to any appeal, the way is now clear for Ministers to proceed not just with awarding contracts for the AWPR, but also with the dualling of the A90 from Balmedie-Tipperty, which has been ‘bundled’ in with the larger project to the south.
A spokesperson for Transport Scotland, the government agency responsible for major road building, confirmed to that the organisation would “now look closely at the remaining stages of the project, including procurement, to ensure we are in a position to proceed as efficiently and quickly as possible, subject to no appeal being lodged against the judgment.
“The Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and the Balmedie to Tipperty improvements will be procured through a combined Non-Profit Distributing Model form of contract. Combining these projects into one contract will provide an opportunity to deliver better value for money.”
Local business leaders and politicians were quick to welcome the ruling. First Minister and SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East, Alex Salmond, said that the news was ‘a significant step forward’ and one which he was sure would receive “a warm reception” in the area.
“It is a signal that the Scottish Government can now move forward with this vital infrastructure project which will deliver instant investment and provide a sure economic boost for Aberdeenshire East, and the region as a whole”, he said.
“The AWPR is necessary to allow further growth and development in the North East. It will ease traffic flow and open up the road system, allowing improved links to the North East and across the area. This area contributes massively to the economy of the entire Country and it is hugely important that it has a road infrastructure fit for purpose.
“After years of inaction by the previous Labour-Liberal administration, it has taken an SNP Government to make this vital progress and the North East is set to benefit.”
Mr Salmond’s parliamentary colleague, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central Kevin Stewart, also sounded a note of warning to objectors, suggesting that the costs of any further appeal should be borne by the protesters themselves.
“Roadsense have not had to bear the cost of this case and in my opinion if they choose to appeal further and continue to disrupt the construction of the AWPR then the legal bills should be borne by them and not the public purse.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for the North East Alison McInnes said: “It is great news that this vital project can now move ahead. The Aberdeen bypass will boost the economy in the North East and cut congestion in Aberdeen.
“The Scottish Government needs to now put this delay behind them and get on with construction of this new route.”
Gordon Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce added “I welcome the Court’s decision and hope that construction can begin shortly, given the huge delay and costs already incurred.
“The Aberdeen by-pass and Tipperty A90 section upgrade should now be the top priority for Transport Scotland in order to improve infrastructure, increase future investment potential, to relieve congestion and to restore confidence to the North East who have long had to endure the Government’s central belt bias.”
The decision was also welcomed by Conservative MSP Nanette Milne, who urged the Scottish Government to move quickly to start work on the road.
“Anyone living or working in the North East will know the pressing need for this road, not only to improve infrastructure but also to help the economy.
“I hope that the SNP Government will now move quickly to award the contracts and start work on the road. We cannot afford any further delays.”
For Labour, North East MSP and party Transport Spokesman Lewis MacDonald said he was pleased Lord Tyre had ruled in favour of the route, and called for work to begin immediately.
“Delivery of the AWPR is crucial to the economic success of the north east, and, under the plans of the previous Scottish Government, this road should have been opened this year. Instead, we have faced delay after delay. The SNP can no longer justify delaying the project any further.
“We need to see the process begin immediately, and construction finally getting under way.”
The decision received a warm welcome from business leaders. Kate Yuill, Policy & Communications Manager at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce said her organisation welcomed the refusal of the appeals.
“The AWPR has already cost £113 million without a single piece of tarmac being laid due to these legal challenges”, she said. “We now look forward to work beginning on this project as soon as possible which will create the starting point for our other key transport projects including the Haudagain improvements and the dualling of the A90 between Balmedie and Tipperty.
However, the move was greeted with dismay by objectors, who continue to oppose the project. Stan Blackley, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
“This huge swathe of tarmac is not a solution for the traffic and transport problems of the north east of Scotland, and will cause more problems than it will solve. It will have negative impacts on air pollution, public health and local communities, and will do little or nothing to combat traffic congestion in the north east. The huge amount of money that has been wasted on this project so far would have been better invested in improving public transport infrastructure and services instead. We can only hope that the Scottish Government, as well as the Aberdeen City and Shire Councils, find this road impossible to fund in the coming years.”
Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland, said that the AWPR would do nothing to address the key traffic congestion issue in Aberdeen.
“Everyone knows that the real problem is car commuting into the city, especially during the morning rush hour - something that an orbital road will do nothing to address”, he said. “The best way that this could be tackled would be to deliver commuter rail routes into the city.
“Given the cuts to public sector jobs and services carried out in the North East over recent years, it will be interesting to see which further local cuts will be required so that Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils can meet their financial commitments towards the already excessive cost of this project.”