There’s more to getting to where you're going than just knowing there's a road

It’s been a long time coming, but finally the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) is opening this week, well most of it anyway…

I have been involved in one respect or another in the APWR since the early 1990s when Grampian Regional Council were exploring potential options for the route. Later, as head of planning and sustainable development at Aberdeen City Council, my team included the managing agent for the scheme, and I was a member of the AWPR project Board. Now on the Board of Nestrans (the Regional Transport Partnership for the North-east of Scotland), my interests are about ensuring that we “lock in the benefits” of the new road. So, you can see why I am particularly pleased to finally see the road opening.

Since my most direct involvement in the AWPR began there have been seven transport Ministers responsible for its delivery: beginning with Nicol Stephen in 2005; through to Tavis Scott who announced the proposed route of the road and the surprise inclusion of the Fast Link in May 2006 (for which he was rewarded by objectors by being portrayed as a donkey!); Stewart Stephenson, who following a 6 month public inquiry confirmed in December 2009 that the project would proceed (with completion anticipated in 2011!!); Keith Brown who presided throughout the legal challenges from 2010 to their conclusion in October 2012; Derek McKay who announced the appointment of the contractor in December 2014 and the start of construction in early 2015; Humza Yousaf who managed the collapse of Carillion; and now Michael Matheson who finally gets the pleasure of seeing the opening of the road.

But what does the AWPR actually mean for Aberdeen and the wider north east?

Although the AWPR involves the construction of 46km (28 miles) (58km/36 miles if you include the later addition of the Balmedie to Tipperty section) of new road, and is the largest infrastructure project in Scotland, it has always been conceived as much more than just a road. Rather it is a fundamental element of an integrated transport strategy, first prepared by Nestrans in 2003 and known then as the Modern Transport System (MTS). The vision was “To deliver a Modern Transport System for the north east of Scotland which enables a more economically competitive, sustainable and socially inclusive society.” The MTS was, therefore, very much about integrating different transport projects such as the AWPR, new Park and Ride facilities, improving access to the airport, rail improvements, facilitating new cycling and pedestrian measures and promoting travel planning and travel awareness. But it also focussed on the integration of transportation and land use planning, taking account of and enabling efficient access to new housing and employment allocations in the then Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire local plans.

So yes, the AWPR is a road, and will reduce journey times and congestion. But it will also improve road safety and air quality in the city centre, help to grow the economy, enhance connectivity with the rest of Scotland, connect communities and allow for better public transport and active travel opportunities.

In economic terms it is anticipated that the AWPR will bring an additional £6bn to the economy and 40,000 new jobs over the next 30 years and improve competitiveness.

In planning terms there appears to be much excitement around the potential that the completion of the AWPR may offer in respect of new development opportunities. That is evident in recent bids for sites to be allocated in the review of both the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Local Development Plans, with a number of them citing proximity to the AWPR and its junctions as justification for their inclusion in the Plan.

However, in response to objections to the AWPR on the basis that it would become a development corridor, in 2008 Scottish Ministers stated that “Any future development proposals in the area of the route will be addressed and controlled by both Councils’ local plans…it should be noted that their current plans do not anticipate development along the length of the AWPR…. Both of the current local plans have been developed with knowledge of the AWPR proposals but neither include provision for a development corridor adjacent to the AWPR route. No junctions are being provided along the AWPR to cater specifically for development proposals.” That line has been held by both Councils since 2008, but now that the road has become a reality it will be interesting to see whether they continue to do so.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but in economic terms, in the integration of transportation and land use planning, and more widely, this really is just the beginning of the road.

Margaret Bochel, director at Aurora Planning Limited

Margaret Bochel, director at Aurora Planning Limited