News & Updates
Are Plans to Become Green in Inverness Putting Businesses in the Red?
‘Places for Everyone’ is a Scottish Government-funded scheme of which the Highland Council has secured funding for the new design of Academy Street in Inverness. The proposed design will see the widening of pavements, a bus lane, and a change in how private vehicles enter and exit Academy Street.
The proposed change comes after temporary measures were introduced on Academy Street during the COVID-19 Pandemic to help with physical distancing. Councillors of Inverness voted to retain the measures and a consultation exercise was undertaken after, with the outcome being that councillors voted in favour of the plans at a committee meeting on 28th August.
What is the aim of the scheme?
The vision behind the scheme aligns with the Highland Council’s broader goal of creating ‘an attractive, greener, high-footfall place that people can comfortably live, work and visit for a wide range of services and facilities and to spend their leisure time.’ By prioritising walking and cycling, the aim is to forge an urban space where people can live, work, and engage in a wide array of services and activities. Crucially, public transport accessibility will be emphasised, ushering in a new era where public transport is accessible, and where vehicles no longer dominate the urban landscape.
It has also been proposed that the scheme will encourage businesses to make use of outside space, reduce noise pollution for city centre residents, improve air quality through reduced vehicle traffic and tree planting and reduce congestion, leading to improved bus reliability and overall better experience for those arriving in the city by bus and/or train. Nonetheless, while the benefits of this project are far-reaching - reduced congestion, improved air quality, and enhanced public spaces - local businesses are voicing concerns about potential disruptions during the 18-24 month construction period, and the ongoing damage that the project may have on trade following the construction period.
Could the scheme negatively impact local businesses?
The Highland Council have advised that they are currently reviewing a support package for local businesses that will be affected during construction to offer assistance with signage, promotions and marketing. The construction period is expected to last around 18-24 months.
But what about after construction? The proposed design will disrupt private vehicle access to Academy Street and surrounding areas. Given the current post COVID-19 climate, with the cost of living and energy crisis in addition to the huge surge in the cost of supplies, the proposal by the Highland Council may be destructive for those businesses placed in and around the affected areas.
Business owners believe that the proposed plans will ruin trade. Our high streets are already dying, and with similar measures brought in Aberdeen and Glasgow, suggestions are that more businesses will be forced to close. Local businesses have already taken to social media to plead with the public to oppose the proposed plans. One business commented: “We know we shall lose so many customers who will go to more accessible retail parks. We, like, so many others chose our business where it is because people pass by.”
It is argued that the proposed changes to traffic flow will also prevent people from coming into the city centre. The Highland Council argue that nearby car parks such as Eastgate and Rose Street will remain unaffected and are less than a five-minute walk from Academy Street. Loading and short-stay car parking in the centre will also remain untouched following the plans. The plans also propose to displace traffic to nearby streets such as Post Office Avenue and through Crown which locals are also against. Another business on Academy Street said the plans will have a hugely detrimental and immediate negative impact on their store and all of their neighbouring businesses. They argue that bringing in the plans at this time is ‘simply beyond comprehension’.
It does seem as though business owners agree that something needs to happen with Academy Street. It is by no means being argued that the Highland Council’s plans are unwarranted. However, it appears that the common consensus amongst business owners in and around Academy Street is that the Highland Council have failed to consult with them on these plans. They have also said Highland Council has failed to take into account any comments made by businesses who depend on city centre trade.
A trial period, economic impact assessment, and broader public engagement could have provided a more comprehensive understanding of the potential ramifications. As the project moves forward, local business owners express a willingness to collaborate with the Council, underscoring the shared goal of revitalising Academy Street while safeguarding the vitality of local commerce. Finding a solution that strikes a balance between green objectives and the economic health of the community remains a top priority.
In these pivotal discussions, it is imperative that all stakeholders work together to ensure that the transformation of Academy Street yields a positive outcome for both the environment and the local economy.
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