Moray Councillors today voted to abandon plans to build a new rail crossing and link road in Elgin

Moray Councillors today voted to abandon plans to build a new rail crossing and link road in Elgin

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Moray Councillors today voted to abandon plans to build a new rail crossing and link road in Elgin

The vote was 13-11 in favour of pulling the project out of the council’s capital plan.

The decision was taken during a Full Council debate on the council’s capital expenditure programme, which senior officers described in a report as unsustainable.

This follows the reduction in government grant and increased costs for providing services, creating a £6m hole in next year’s council revenue budget and a recurring shortfall that will lead to £14 in the following year.

At the meeting councillors were formally notified that their financial position was contrary to their statutory role to maintain a sustainable budget, and this would need to be addressed during the next two years.

The £8.5m project was due to come before the planning and regulatory service committee later this year. If approved it would have helped provide access for 200 affordable homes and a further 250 private housing in the pipeline.

The new crossing was designed to cope with the projected growth in traffic numbers over the next ten years.

As a result of the decision, if it can’t provide alternative access to the affordable homes site Moray Council will have to repay £2.7million plus interest to the Grampian Housing Association for land sold to the council for that purpose. There will also be developer contributions of £652,000 that may have to be reimbursed to house builders who may not now be able to develop areas that would have been serviced by the new road and crossing.

Leader of Moray Council, Cllr Stewart Cree, who voted to keep the project in the plan, said it would be a grave error to abandon the project that had been approved as a council priority.

He was supported by Cllr John Cowe, who said the existing crossing overt he Inverness-Aberdeen railway was already at 103 per cent capacity, and that the new crossing would have had major benefits.

“The road would have generated an estimated £6m in council tax revenues, and a potential boost to the local economy of £100m,” he said.

He added that a new crossing would have to built at some stage, it will now simply cost more.

The motion to scrap the project was tabled by Cllr Douglas Ross, who said that opponents of the link road felt it could not be a priority over other projects while the capital plan was unsustainable.

Extract from the report:

When determining the Council’s budgetary position Councillors have the following legal duties:

(i) To act in accordance with statutory duties and responsibilities.

The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 (s 35) places a duty on local authorities to manage their own capital expenditure and provides, that in doing so, they should comply with any regulations issued by Scottish Ministers and relative codes of practice. This means compliance with the CIPFA Prudential Code is a statutory duty. If they think that any local authority is not complying with the Prudential Code they have the power to intervene and set maximum capital expenditure limits.

(ii) To act reasonably.

They must take into account relevant considerations and not reach a decision which no reasonable authority could have reached.

(iii) Not to breach the common law fiduciary duty owed to its ratepayers/Council Tax payers

The CIPFA Prudential Code was adopted by the Scottish government as a replacement for the central control previously in place. The Prudential Code is a form of self-regulation based on the council determining the level of debt it can afford in the short to longer term, considering the longer term sustainability of its capital expenditure proposals. It is clear that the council has a short term plan which is likely to result in its useable financial reserves being exhausted over the next two years.

Therefore, the council does not have a sustainable financial plan and does not currently comply with the Prudential Code.

Moray Council area stretches from Tomintoul in the south to the shores of the Moray Firth, from Keith in the east to Forres in the west. The council and its 4,500 employees respond to the needs of 92,500 residents in this beautiful part of Scotland, which nestles between Aberdeenshire and the Highlands.

Famous for its colony of dolphins, fabulous beaches and more malt whisky distilleries than any where else in Scotland, Moray is a thriving area and a great place to live.

Headquartered in  Elgin, the administrative capital of Moray.

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