Lobbying vow puts drive for £22m M-way link in top gear

A PROPOSED £22 million road to link two of Scotland's major motorways through West Lothian is a step closer to reality after politicians agreed to lobby Scottish ministers for the cash to get the project off the ground.

The A801 Avon Gorge, known as the "missing link", between the M8 and M9, has been a political football for years and a row has now broken out over who is responsible for its delay.

Sections of the two-mile stretch of road are unsuitable for larger vehicles, but it is seen as a strategic transport link between the motorways at both regional and national levels.

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It is also hoped it would become a freight route between Grangemouth Docks, the Grangemouth oil refinery and various distribution centres in West Lothian.

Both West Lothian and Falkirk councils want the road upgraded with a fly-over bridge to improve business links and planning permission has been approved.

But neither council has the money to finance the estimated 22m cost, so they have sought support from Holyrood.

West Lothian Council has agreed in principal to pay 3.4m towards the project, a move supported by West Lothian MSPs Mary Mulligan and Angela Constance.

Linlithgow Labour MSP Ms Mulligan said: "The Scottish Government has said it recognises the strategic importance of the Avon Gorge and acknowledge what a dangerous route it is, but warm words are not enough.

"Both councils have done all they can and it is now time for the Scottish Government to fulfil its promises and fund it."

Livingston SNP MSP Ms Constance believes money used in the "unnecessary" Edinburgh trams project could have went to the Avon Gorge upgrade.

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She said: "The same Labour politicians who call on increased funding for transport and infrastructure projects voted through hundred of millions of pounds for unnecessary Edinburgh trams, denying vital funds to the rest of Scotland."

The Avon Gorge route is listed number 20 in the Scottish Government's 29 Strategic Transport Project Reviews (STPR), to be delivered by 2022, and is part of the National Planning Framework 2 (NPF2) for delivery by 2016 or later.

West Lothian executive councillor for transport, Martyn Day, said: "Work commissioned jointly with partners Falkirk Council and SEStran demonstrates that the project will deliver considerable benefits to the local and national economy.

"The appraisal also showed that a new bridge would take pressure out of the central Scotland road network.

"This updated traffic and economic appraisal work continues to show the proposed crossing would have significant benefits to users in the Central Belt."