Inverness West Link: Tulloch and Tesco lobbied council
Builder Tulloch Homes and supermarket chain Tesco lobbied Highland Council to build a new link road across parkland in Inverness, BBC Scotland can reveal.
The council, which has now committed itself to the route favoured by the two firms, said the road was needed to ease congestion in the city centre.
Campaigners fighting to save the parkland have accused the council of putting developers before the public.
The council denied it was unduly influenced by commercial companies.
Leader Drew Hendry also said the process in selecting the route for the Inverness West Link, which would link the A9 and A82 and cross the River Ness and Caledonian Canal, was transparent.
Tesco and Tulloch Homes have declined to comment.
Councillor Jim Crawford, who sat on a cross-party group set up to examine options for the road and come up with a preferred route, said the information regarding Tulloch Homes and Tesco was not made known to the group.
End Quote Jim Crawford Inverness South councillor
This information was not given to people to make up their minds on the steering group”
Councillors chose a route - called Option Six - through a green wedge of land at Canal Park in March last year following public consultation on eight possible routes.
Option Six is now the subject of a fresh round of public consultation by Highland Council.
But BBC Scotland has obtained documents, some through using Freedom of Information laws, which show that Tulloch Homes and Tesco may have had some influence on that decision.
Both companies threatened to object if an alternative, more expensive, high-level bridge was chosen through nearby Torvean Quarry.
Tulloch Homes also said they would seek compensation if councillors selected the quarry route as valuable housing land would be taken away by the earthworks for the bridge.
Option Six fact file
- The route follows a sweeping alignment along the bank of the River Ness from Dores Road roundabout to cross the river at precast factory yard. The link road would then follow the Caledonian Canal embankment to a new tandem canal bridge arrangement at Tomnahurich
- The estimated cost is £27.2m
- Highland Council said a phased programme of work could start in 2014-15
Under Freedom of Information, BBC Scotland obtained minutes from a meeting between Tulloch Homes and Highland Council in October 2011.
According to the document, a representative from the construction company offered an incentive in favour of Option Six.
In the minutes the representative said that "if Tulloch built the road through their site as part of the Ness-side development there would be no direct cost to the public but Tulloch would reclaim the cost through reduced development contribution requirements".
Other papers seen by BBC Scotland include a report to Highland Council from 2003 which said Tesco had offered to act as a banker to the road project.
The report said the offer was conditional on the West Link being built along the route now known as Option Six, and also that it got planning permission for 20,000 sq ft store at Ness-side.'Very annoyed'
Tesco has gone on to open a store at Ness-side, but it is slightly smaller than it had outlined 10 years ago.
Inverness South Independent councillor Mr Crawford said he voted in favour of Option Six based on the information that was made available to him.
He said: "At the time Option Six seemed to be the best value for money."
End Quote Drew Hendry Leader of Highland Council
If we had been put under any pressure we would have told these companies to take a running jump over this”
Responding to the BBC investigation, he said: "I am very, very annoyed and I should think that constituents in every ward in Inverness will be horrified to hear that this has been pushed under the carpet.
"This information was not given to people to make up their minds on the steering group."
Campaigners fighting to save the parkland have said they are not surprised the companies have been looking after their commercial interests, but accuse the council of being "extremely dishonest" in hiding information from the public.
Donald MacKenzie, who has helped to gather 1,400 signatures to a petition opposing Option Six, said: "I think it's the council's duty to arrange the public roads and other things as required by the city of Inverness.
"I don't think it's the duty of Highland Council to make development easier for companies."
Mr Hendry, leader of Highland Council, said all people, groups and landowners affected by the planned road would have been consulted, and this included Tulloch Homes and Tesco.
He said the authority had not tried to hide information, adding: "Leaders of all four groups on the council strongly refute that there has been any influence over the chosen route for Option Six.
"I think the public has been rightly concerned by the story that has broken on the BBC and I am asking the chief executive to write to Audit Scotland to make sure that we give the public reassurance that the process has been carried out correctly."
Mr Hendry added: "If we had been put under any pressure we would have told these companies to take a running jump over this."