MORAY councillors today approved controversial plans for a major retail development on Common Good land at Forres.
Redco Milne, a joint venture between building giant the Stewart Milne Group and Aberdeen-based developer Redco Assets, are planning to create up to 500 full and part-time jobs and stop the exodus of shoppers to Elgin and Inverness by building a £25 million retail complex at the town’s Bogton Road, including Mosset Park, home to one of the Highland League’s oldest football clubs, Forres Mechanics.
The proposals, first tabled five years ago, have been vigorously opposed by Forres residents and almost 30 objectors addressed a special meeting of Moray Council’s planning and regulatory services committee to condemned the plans for the new retail park.
But, following a debate, the development which relates to a supermarket, petrol station and three retail units was approved by eight votes to three.
Councillor Douglas Ross, the committee chairman,stressed after the meeting that the approval was in outline only and that the people of Forres would continue to be consulted both on any detailed planning application which might follow and on the future of the Common Good land.
He said: “This was a controversial application which attracted a large number of objections so it was right and proper that councillors sat over two days to hear the variety of opinions and take some time before we reached a decision.
“For my own part, I felt there were insufficient planning reasons alone to refuse this application, and we had to determine it on planning grounds.
“Other issues such as the possible sale of Common Good land will now be debated and consulted upon with the people of Forres”
He added: “While I know many people will be disappointed in this decision, I hope they can see it as the start of the process and I would encourage them to express their views on if or how this development should progress.”
It is understood that Redco Milne will have to approach Moray Council for permission to buy the 1.8 hectares of Common Good land required for the development and that the local residents are likely to to be consulted before a final decision over the sale is made.
Aaron McLean, the SNP councillor for Forres who led the opposition within the committee to the retail park development, said: “The residents of the Bogton area have undeniable concerns on the loss of the green space that will occur with the development and I had hoped that my fellow councillors would feel the same way. However this does not mean that the development is now going to pop up overnight. This was outline permission only.
“We will now have to have the debate on whether or not we sell the Common Good land to Redco Milne and all that this will entail. This will allow both me and the people of Forres to find out exactly what the town’s Common Good could receive if we decided to sell off the family silver. That debate will undoubtedly have a range of strong opinions as well and I look forward to hearing the views of individuals and organisations in and around the town”
He stressed: “Despite my disappointment at not winning the case against the planning permission it is by no means the end of this issue and I hope that the next stage will allow myself and the people of Forres to find out exactly what is planned for the area and uncover some of the half truths and rumours we are currently hearing in Forres.”