Aberdeen bypass: The long and winding road

By Ken Banks
BBC Scotland North East reporter

  • Published
Media caption,

The AWPR is 36 miles long

It has been a long and winding road, but nine years after being approved and a somewhat bumpy ride the £1bn Aberdeen bypass journey is finally complete.

A peripheral route around the Granite City was first considered back in the 1950s but it took several decades for serious planning to get out of first gear.

In January 2003, the then first minister, Jack McConnell, announced plans to build the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) to ease congestion by creating a fast link to the north, west and south of the city.

The news was broadly welcomed by business and council leaders.

But opponents - some of whom formed the campaign group RoadSense - criticised the potential environmental impact of the project as well as the potential final cost.

'Window dressing'

A public inquiry was held in 2008, due to thousands of objections about the AWPR being received.

Dozens of protesters used shop dummies to illustrate their belief that the inquiry was just "window dressing" by Scottish ministers.

First Minister Alex Salmond insisted it was a "properly set-up public local inquiry".

Image caption,
A public inquiry was held due to thousands of objections

Ultimately, the bypass - with a cost estimate between £295m and £395m - was approved by Scottish ministers in December 2009, six years after the plans were unveiled.

In 2010, the International School of Aberdeen moved to a new home from its original campus to make way for the road.

It was hoped work on the bypass could get under way the next year.

However, RoadSense soon instructed lawyers to begin action against the Scottish government's decision to give the go-ahead to the bypass.

In August 2011, a judge at the Court of Session ruled against campaigners.

Later that year, a further legal challenge was mounted but it was also rejected by judges.

The case then moved to the Supreme Court.

'Must go ahead'

In October 2012, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

RoadSense's spokesman William Walton said: "Obviously this is not what I had hoped for, or expected. I have always maintained that the route selection process was flawed. Clearly the court has come to a different view."

Mr Salmond said: "The decision is a just ruling for the vast majority of people who are behind this ambitious project.

"Quite clearly, these unwanted delays will result in a substantial increase in the overall cost of this project, but its value to the north east and wider Scottish economy is such that it must go ahead."

Preparatory work began in August 2014.

In November that year, the predicted completion date was brought forward from the spring of 2018 to the winter of 2017.

Construction on the project itself, which was by now estimated to cost £745m, began in February 2015.

Image caption,
The bypass was approved in 2009 but construction did not get under way until 2015

However, the collapse of contractor Carillion - which had major contracts across the UK including the AWPR - contributed to the bypass falling behind schedule.

At the start of last year, it was hoped it could open in April or May.

By March, that had been further pushed back to late autumn.

The first main bypass section - between Parkhill and Blackdog - opened in June. The Balmedie to Tipperty section of the bypass fully opened to traffic in August.

Problems with the construction of the bridge over the River Don proved another stumbling block.

Even as recently as November there was no definitive opening date, leading to heated political debate.

Image source, AWPR
Image caption,
The Craibstone to Stonehaven section (in green) south of Aberdeen Airport and link to Charleston opened on 12 December

Then, on 12 December, a key 20-mile (32km) section - from Craibstone to Stonehaven and Charleston - opened to traffic.

Contract variation

Consent had been secured for a contract variation which paved the way for the opening.

It had been hoped the final piece of the jigsaw, the Don bridge, would be ready before Christmas.

However it was announced on 20 December that would not happen after all - which Transport Secretary Michael Matheson described as "disappointing" but "no surprise".

With that now falling into place on Tuesday morning another two months on, the full project has finally reached its destination.

Aberdeen's completed bypass stretches 36 miles (58 km), and the construction is said to have involved more than 14 million working hours.

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The final bill is expected to be more than £1bn, with talks ongoing about liability for extra contractor costs over the £745m price tag.

It has been a long journey - but one which is already being widely heralded as leading to much quicker journey times.