from Sunday Herald, 16 October 2005
MINISTERS are facing the threat of another court challenge to their road-building programme, this time over the controversial £40 million plan for a bypass around Dalkeith, near Edinburgh.
Environmentalists have already successfully delayed the M74 extension in Glasgow by at least a year with an appeal to the Court of Session. They alleged that ministers had wrongly introduced new evidence and had failed to give good enough reasons for overturning the conclusion of a public inquiry which recommended against the road. Now they think they can take legal action to block the Dalkeith bypass.
Campaigners claim that the bypass, as well as causing pollution, damaging wildlife and destroying a popular park, may be illegal. When the plan was first drawn up in the early 1990s, they say, no proper environmental assessment was carried out in line with European law.
As a result they are accusing the Scottish Executive of “rank bad practice” over the bypass and “double standards” on its transport policy. The Executive, however, maintains that the road is locally popular and will aid development.
A five-kilometre single- carriageway bypass to the northeast of Dalkeith, linking the A720 to the A68, was given planning permission in 1993 after a public inquiry. But the plan was shelved in 1999 by the then Labour transport minister, Sarah Boyack, so that alternatives could be examined.
In June this year, however, the current transport minister, LibDem Nicol Stephen, revived the plan, insisting it go ahead as a “matter of urgency”. Since then local and national opposition has been mounting.
Local residents alarmed at the potential loss of recreational green space have launched a Save Dalkeith Park campaign. The road will slice through the historic 1088-acre park, spoiling it for the 50,000 people who use it every year, they say.
“We question the legality of the former Scottish Office’s decision not to conduct a full environmental assessment of the Dalkeith northern bypass in line with European directives,” said Jade Allison, the spokeswoman for the Save Dalkeith Park campaign group.
“A proper impact study should have been done, inclu ding public consultation. We are currently seeking legal advice on this matter.”
Dalkeith Park is A-listed as one of Scotland’s best designed landscapes by the government agency Historic Scotland. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, birds of prey, hares, otters, bats and badgers.
According to Allison, running a bypass through the park will create pollution from light, noise and road run-off. “Building this bypass doesn’t actually solve pollution problems, it just shifts them elsewhere,” she said.
Local campaigners have been backed by TRANSform Scotland, the national campaign for sustainable transport. “The process followed shows rank bad practice by the Scottish Executive,” said the group’s director, Colin Howden.
“The case for the road is ripe for challenge. The Executive has failed to carry out the analysis of the alternatives that it promised back in 1999, while the traffic and environmental data that underlie the proposal are 15 years old.”
Howden accused ministers of operating “double standards” on transport investment. “Rail projects are analysed to death, while road projects fail to get any independent public scru tiny,” he said.
“The Borders railway through Midlothian has spent two years under the parliamentary microscope and app ears to be going nowhere fast, while this new road has been nodded through on the whim of the Scottish ministers.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust also expressed concern that the assessment of plants and animals that would be affected by the bypass was out of date.
“Without current information being used, the true picture of the biodiversity of the affected area as it is now cannot be understood,” said the Trust’s head of conservation, Stuart Brooks.
The Executive, however, defended the bypass as both legal and desirable. “An environment assessment was carried out before the draft orders were placed,” said an Executive spokeswoman.
“The new road at Dalkeith is locally popular because of the benefits it will bring to the town and the aid to development it will bring through improving the road network around Edinburgh.”
The decision to go ahead with the road was also warmly welcomed by the Midlothian Labour MSP and deputy environment minister, Rhona Brankin.
“A Dalkeith bypass will cut local congestion, improve road safety, promote economic development and improve air quality in Dalkeith town centre,” she said.
But this was disputed by the Green MSP for the Lothians, Mark Ballard. He has repeatedly challenged ministers on the lack of any proper assessment of the road’s environmental impact and on the Executive’s failure to examine alternatives.
“So far we have had no explanation as to why the ministers were content to approve the road based on the findings of a public inquiry 13 years ago without conducting new research,” Ballard said.
“When will the Executive learn that building new roads simply generates more traffic? I’m not surprised that local people feel that they have no option but legal action.”
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