Community council submits response to A96 dualling

Kintore and District Community Council has submitted this response to the current consultation on the dualling of the A96:

A96 dualling violet route would require a bridge here
Flooding is one of the principal concerns with the A96 dualling. The violet route would entail construction of a 500 or 600-metre viaduct on this flood plain.

Kintore and District Community Council has serious concerns about the impact of the currently-preferred options for the A96 dualling around Inverurie. Our main concerns are:

1. Traffic problems in Inverurie and the Inverurie bypass design brief
The main aim stated for Transport Scotland’s A96 dualling project is to upgrade the current single carriageway between Inverness and Aberdeen. The A96 is already dualled between Aberdeen and Inverurie, and, although very busy in peak times, has sufficient capacity for the traffic using it.

The congestion problems between Kintore and Inverurie are due to the bottleneck caused by the change to a single carriageway after the Port Elphinstone roundabout – both for traffic to and from Huntly on the A96 and for traffic to and from Inverurie and Oldmeldrum via the B9170/B993. Neither the orange nor the violet options provide an efficient solution to these – the main traffic problem in the area.

The violet route has just one immediate junction for Inverurie and this is some distance out on the B9170, encouraging traffic to enter Inverurie by Souterford and the railway bridge. Alternatively traffic could head round the east side of Inverurie on the violet option and turn back to Port Elphinstone – increasing traffic at the enlarged Tavelty junction in Kintore.

This is clearly a concern for Kintore, particularly with the potential for additional traffic to be drawn from the Oldmeldrum area and the A947 corridor to be funnelled onto the busy A96 section between Kintore and Aberdeen.

In 2012 Transport Scotland stated in the review of the proposed local development plan that the provision of an Eastern Bypass (the Keith Hall Link Road) was critical to support the delivery of future development sites served by and feeding traffic on to the A96. The DPMTAG appraisal for the current LDP states “Inverurie is characterised by development pressure on a Strategic Transport Network which is already congested and experiences constraints on capacity. A key issue therefore will be for development to demonstrate how it can be accommodated on the STN.”

The violet option is being promoted as a means to service developments to the north-east of Inverurie and also to improve the traffic flow in Inverurie. However local traffic links to existing and future development is surely not the function of a trunk road, the main purpose of which is to connect towns and cities in the safest and most efficient manner.

2. Existing route
It seems clear that most local people would prefer the A96 dualling to follow the line of the existing A96 Inverurie bypass. The main difficulty is that there are now houses close to the existing A96 carriageway between the Don bridge and the Blackhall roundabout.

It has also been stated that there are too many entrances and exits on the existing A96 Inverurie by-pass for it to be upgraded. Between the Port Elphinstone and Blackhall junctions there actually appears to be only one junction, at Old Kemnay Road and this junction could surely be moved.

We understand that the Don bridge could be widened. Page 104 of the 2015 Jacobs report of states:
“The Don Inverurie New Bridge is the longest bridge (140m) on the existing road and is a four span structure crossing the River Don carrying the single carriageway A96. It is considered that this structure could be readily extended to carry a second carriageway. The widening could be undertaken to the west due to the presence of local housing to the north- east.”

We understand that the A96 dualling design brief for Transport Scotland includes:
no compulsory purchase of existing properties
new road sections to be specified as category 7A (large dual carriageway with grade-separated junctions).

Upgrading the existing single carriageway to category 5 or 6 dual carriageway would require compulsory purchase of land on only 3 properties at most. We do not believe the category 7A brief should be regarded as sacrosanct, if it results in an unsuitable, or inefficient solution.

It should be noted that Transport Scotland did not object to the planning application for these houses, although many local residents pointed out that they would restrict the options for dualling the A96 at this point.

Page 220 of the 2015 Jacobs report states:
“The A96 Inverurie Bypass is constrained on both sides of the road by residential properties, which may require geotechnical solutions to minimise impacts on properties and accommodate a dual carriageway between the existing road boundaries. This will require careful consideration of traffic management during construction. In addition, the available cross section under the Upperboat Overbridge on Inverurie Bypass is insufficient to accommodate a rural dual carriageway cross section. Both issues warrant further investigation as part of the DMRB Stage 2 Assessment.”

The diagram of the Blackhall GSI shown at the recent exhibitions appears to show that, if the slip roads for the new Blackhall flyover were removed, the new dualled A96 could pass between the houses on the existing bypass corridor.

At the A90 AWPR/A93 North Deeside Road junction, we have seen that the GSI can be located where there is space for slip roads, with link roads taking traffic back to the actual intersection. So, it is surely possible that a similar scheme could be used for the Blackhall junction with link roads taking traffic back to the Blackhall roundabout, under the new A96.

3. Landscape and visual impact
Both the violet and orange routes would involve considerable and lasting impacts on the local landscape.

The violet route would require a huge 500-600 metre bridge over the railway line and the wide flood plain of the lower Don at Kintore. Sloping down to the valley from Balbithan, the A96 here would be particularly intrusive in the Donside landscape.

Shaw Hill is a prominent hill in the bend of the River Don SW of Inverurie with woods and fields on its slopes. The orange route would require a huge cutting through the hillside, with the road, lighting and signs visible for miles around. The orange route will also involve the destruction of a significant part of Roquharold woods, plus a huge bridge to be built across the steeply-sided lower Don valley at this point.

4. Flooding
The bridge required for the violet option would have to be to be constructed on the River Don flood plain. In light of the regular flooding in this area and, in particular, the serious floods affecting Kintore, Port Elphinstone, Inverurie and Kemnay in 2016, we are most concerned about any construction taking place on the River Don flood plain. You will be aware that the flood risk in this area is so great that the B977 Hatton of Fintray to Kintore road has permanent flood warning signs.

To try to understand the flood risk in this section of the River Don, where the river course has changed considerably over recent centuries, there are a number of past and current studies.

The Inverurie (Port Elphinstone and Kintore) FPS Study notes that there are currently no formal or informal flood defences for the River Don in Kintore. So the risk of flooding to Kintore remains high with the EnviroCentre report of 2003 finding that:
“Climate change to reduce the 1% AP (100 year) event to a 2.5% AP (40 year) event and then 1.6% AP (60-year) event by the 2080’s."

The report on the impact of flooding on communities, conducted by CREW (a Scottish Government funded partnership between the James Hutton Institute and Scottish universities, supported by MASTS) has still to be completed, with part three interviews having just been conducted.

Against this background any work on, or constriction of, the River Don flood plain has to be a major concern for Kintore, Port Elphinstone, Inverurie and, indeed, Kemnay.

5. Access to A96
The engineering plans for the orange routes show a new grade-separated interchange (GSI) replacing the existing Thainstone roundabout, within our community council area. This is similar to a proposal made in 2011 to facilitate the development of a proposed new housing estate on Shaw Hill, where the “traffic solution” recorded in the 2012 Aberdeenshire Local development plan was to replace the Thainstone and Port Elphinstone roundabouts with a GSI.

Implementation of this “traffic solution” was to be made a condition of approval of several planning applications, but the Council have subsequently dropped this requirement. The new proposals have the same problems as the original proposals back in 2011. Space is severely constrained for a GSI to provide access/egress for the existing side roads joining the A96 at the Thainstone roundabout.

Given the space available, no side access roads seem possible without either long detours and/or significant compulsory purchase and destruction of property. The current engineering design shows tortuous access routes for traffic from Thainstone Mart, the vast Thainstone Business Park, Kirkwood Commercial Park, residents on Thainstone Hill and Fullerton Farm to the A96 north or south carriageways. Access to the road to Inverurie for this traffic, as well as traffic on the A96 will still be via Port Elphinstone roundabout, which will still therefore be congested.

The required enlargement of the existing Tavelty junction to enable the violet route will significantly affect access to the A96 from the Kintore Business Park, the Steadings and other properties at Cairnhall and the Cairnhall cemetery.
6. Sense of place
Both the violet and orange routes would dramatically change the ‘sense of place’ of Kintore and the surrounding district covered by KDCC. The setting of this former Royal Burgh is part of its heritage.

The violet route would result in Kintore becoming bounded on two sides by a busy dual carriageway trunk road. The views from Kintore along the River Don valley would be lost forever and replaced with a massive 500-600 metre viaduct with constant flow of traffic.

On the other side of the river, the orange route would carve a massive cutting through a much-loved local landmark, Shaw Hill, which marks the boundary between Kintore and Inverurie, and which is the reputed site of Robert the Bruce’s camp.

7. Environmental and economic impact
As a community council we must take into account matters beyond our immediate community council boundary. In this respect, we have to be concerned about the wider impact of the violet and orange options on the landscape and economy of our area.

The A96 Dualling Programme Environmental Reports note effects on biodiversity, soils and geodiversity, water and flooding, air, population and human health, historic environment and landscape with impacts ranging from major to moderate.

The violet option in particular would appear to have a considerable impact in terms of the destruction of quality agricultural land and a consequent significant impact on the value of agricultural output of our region.

The indications seem clear that the violet and orange options would also involve substantially increased carbon emissions, through both construction and operation, compared to upgrading the existing A96 corridor. At a time when the Scottish Government has announced a Climate Emergency, this seems incompatible with Government policy on climate change prevention.

8. Summary
Building a brand new dual carriageway through the unspoilt farmland and countryside either to the east or to the west of Inverurie is an expensive and damaging solution that seems out of place in these environmentally-aware times.

We believe that Transport Scotland should reconsider that the best solution to the problems with the A96 in this area is to widen the existing Inverurie bypass:

  • It appears to be the most popular solution locally.
  • It would minimise destruction of open countryside and precious quality farmland.
  • It would be less intrusive and retain our ‘sense of place’ largely intact.
  • It would seem to be less expensive than completely new roads involving major earthworks and (in the case of the violet route) a major new bridge.
  • It would involve less emissions of greenhouse gases during construction and operation.

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