Controversial plans for a £2.5million link road through Stirling Council’s Viewforth site are to be ditched.
Almost 1700 people signed an online petition asking the council to axe its proposals and a further petition on the council’s own community engagement platform attracted 566 signatures.
The level of objection automatically triggered the requirement for the council to discuss the petitioners’ calls, with the issue scheduled for a meeting tomorrow (Thursday).
However, senior councillors confirmed to the Observer this week the joint SNP/Labour administration is to leave the link road out of their 2021/22 budget - blaming the extra financial pressures brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
They said there had already been a rethink ahead of the main budget meeting, scheduled for next Thursday (March 11).
The administration stopped short of ruling out the potential for the link road plans to be reintroduced in future, but the move is a major victory for the project’s critics. SNP environment spokesperson Councillor Jim Thomson said: “The council capital budget always has significant demands each year and - whilst the Viewforth Link Road (VLR) was intended for inclusion this year - the response required to the Covid pandemic must be our top priority at this time.
“We remain committed to providing better walking, cycling and public realm improvements in and around Port Street and council officers are currently working with the public through steering groups and online engagements.”
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Labour environment spokesperson Councillor Danny Gibson added: “We are having to reassess many of our previous commitments given the pressure on our budgets and in light of the need to prioritise spend to support recovery from the COVID pandemic.
“Whilst we will continue to do all we can in response to the Climate Emergency, as the Stirling area continues to develop and grow so too will the pressures and demands for the transport and infrastructure changes required. The Local Development Plan and Transport Strategy will be reviewed in the coming years to address this.”
Objectors, however, want firmer assurances that the VLR will be binned once and for all. Green Mid-Scotland and Fife regional MSP Mark Ruskell, who opposed the plans during his time as a Stirling councillor and since, said: “It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for Stirling Council’s administration to realise the folly of the Viewforth Link Road.
“The local community has been united in its opposition to the project and the idea of encouraging more traffic into the city centre while we grapple with a climate emergency was always absurd.
“This project should now be permanently consigned to the bin and instead efforts must be focused on a sustainable, green, recovery from Covid-19.”
Tory group leader and Stirling West councillor Neil Benny, who has also campaigned against the road, said: “For months the SNP administration at the council have consistently ignored the huge opposition to this ridiculous project. Now they are attempting to kick it into the long grass as a cynical ploy to remove this albatross from around their necks before the elections in May.
“Unless and until there is a clear statement that this flawed project is cancelled everyone should remain extremely concerned that they will bring it back. We must remove the VLR from the local transport strategy and the local development plan to give certainty to the people of Stirling that this plan is well and truly off the table.”
Stirling MP Alyn Smith (SNP) meanwhile said it would “not be the right time” to proceed with this project.
But he added: “That said, I am generally supportive of the principle aims of building such a piece of infrastructure, such as guiding traffic away from the city centre and creating better pedestrian and cycling opportunities in Stirling city.
“It is my understanding that £1.3 million has been earmarked for the road in capital funding. I know that councillors and council officers can easily identify many more priority projects that would benefit from this funding as we heal our communities following a pandemic crisis.”