A CONTROVERSIAL bypass aimed at easing traffic chaos in Inverness – at a total cost of £54 million – has been given the green light by councillors.
The 3.2km road will include new bridges over the Caledonian Canal and the River Ness in Inverness.
Highland councillors finally approved the plans, which include a £10 million sports hub – despite concerns expressed in recent years over the chosen route.
Council leader Drew Hendry said: “Granting of planning permission is a significant landmark in the progress of this vitally important project.
“The benefits for Inverness from the completion of the Southern Distributor Road are immense, both in terms of freeing the city centre of congestion and allowing the growth of neighbourhoods.
Jimmy Gray, convenor of the Planning Applications Committee and Inverness convener, said: “I am extremely enthusiastic about the West Link road project which is one of the most important developments to have come forward in recent times for the City of Inverness and the Highlands.
“Linked together with the sports hub development there is a real opportunity for Inverness and the Highlands to have major sporting and recreational facilities that will be of national interest.”
The road will run from the Southern Distributor Road at Holm Roundabout on Dores Road to the A82 Inverness – Fort William trunk road on both sides of the Caledonian Canal.
The proposed route follows the river bank from the existing Holm Roundabout to a fixed bridge crossing over the River Ness at the Precast Concrete Works/River Ness weir.
The road then follows the toe of the Caledonian Canal embankment to a tandem canal swing bridge arrangement at Tomnahurich as well as continuing on to link to Glenurquhart Road to the east side of the canal.
General Booth Road will be realigned to meet with a new roundabout proposed on the A82 to the west of the canal.
Stage two will see the road crossing the Caledonian Canal at a new swing bridge and connect to a new four-arm roundabout at Torvean before linking to General Booth Road at its junction with a new roundabout on the A82.
In recommending approval of the application, planners said the principle and broad corridor of the chosen route alignment was firmly established in planning policy, confirmed at three successive local plan inquiries.
The proposal would bring about clear benefits in providing for more efficient cross-city movement.
At the same meeting, planning permission in principle was granted for a mixed used development at Torvean, Inverness, featuring an 18-hole golf course, practice area, new golf clubhouse and maintenance building.
It also involves the formation of a sports hub comprising sports pitches, fitness trails, car parking and a building to accommodate changing/shower facilities; and parkland areas at Torvean.
The sports hub will be located on an area of land currently occupied by holes 9-14 of Torvean Golf Course to the east of the realigned General Booth Road and comprise four sports pitches; a changing facility with 8 changing rooms, parking, and fitness trails.
The parkland areas will be located on an area which is currently occupied by holes 5-8 of Torvean Golf Course.
A planning application for an extension to Kilvean Cemetery has been withdrawn at this stage, subject to satisfactory completion of further ground investigation works.
Opponents of the bypass have argued for a fixed link elsewhere along the river, or even a tunnel.
They fear that peaceful parkland and sports facilities will be “destroyed” by the new road.
There were 430 objections.
John West, of Inverness Civic Trust, said the council was ignoring public anger at the project.
Donald MacKenzie, who launched an online campaign against the route, attracting over 2,500 signatures in support, said: “It is unbelievable such a stupid road is still being supported by the council and our money.
“They say they have followed procedures but it is still possible to follow laid-down procedures and come up with the wrong answer.
“It is inexplicable to the people of Inverness why they want to build that road on the route.
“Our politicians are using our money on a road they should not be trying to build. The people don’t want it and it doesn’t make sense.”
He claims the new road would not solve traffic congestion but would “destroy” the tranquillity and beauty of the local area.
Inverness Council leader Ian Brown said: “The majority of people I’ve spoken to are supportive. I believe it will help traffic congestion and help improve journey times.”
“Personally I think it is a big benefit to Inverness.”