Highland Council agrees plans to cut Academy Street traffic by 75 per cent

An artist’s impression of Academy Street.

Highland Council has once again found itself in conflict with local businesses in Inverness after diametrically opposed views emerged on whether to cut off public traffic to Academy Street.

Despite revelations that a legal challenge over the plans is under way as well as major national retailer M&S writing, apparently in objection, to the move, a compromise was rejected narrowly at a vote 12 to 10.

The business community has slammed the plans which called for a 75 per cent reduction in traffic to the city center and only allow public transport, deliveries and blue badge holders which emerged only four days before today’s meeting.

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Councillors at the Inverness area committee rejected an additional proposal to run a trial of the new road layout with some arguing the changes would in fact be good for business as well as the environment.

‘What if 1000 cars a day go past Crown Primary at pick up time?’

Liberal Democrat leader Alasdair Christie called for a month-long study to take a look at the impact on nearby roads, citing the risks of traffic congestion being offloaded onto nearby streets including around Crown Primary.

“Why don’t we try the new road layout for a month and get down all the unintended or unforeseen consequences of this and then we can better address them, and I am in favor of this plan?” he asked.

“I want to address the concerns that have been put to me. Lets see what it means, let’s see where the cars go, we would then have more data to inform our decision instead of just going ahead, it is Option B, it must work, people are going to walk, people are going to take the bike.

“What if they don’t? I wouldn’t want to be a Central or Millburn ward councilor having to deal with that hassle and grief and anxiety. What if 1000 cars a day go past Crown Primary at pick up time, what is that going to mean for the parents driving and the wee car park there?

Risk to scheme construction funding

The council’s development plans manager Scott Dalgarno warned that: “There is the potential for delay to prejudice our ability to secure money for construction, the £800,000 has been secured ends with the design, so we need money to build the scheme.

“To be able to secure that funding we need to enter a competitive process with other councils across Scotland so the idea is that we use this decision to demonstrate to potential funders that we have the political support to move forwards.”

Academy Street businesses worth £1.9 million in business rates

Conservative group leader Helen Crawford urged caution because of how much city center businesses pay in non-domestic rates, saying the council needs to persuade traders.

She said: “I had a look and totted up the number of businesses on Academy Street who are paying business rates and it came out at £1.9 million. I have also read elsewhere – it is around 11 per cent of Highland non-domestic business rates come from businesses in Inverness city centre.

“BID Inverness represents 850 city center businesses, which means jobs, has said we have not been consulted, we need to be consulted, we need more information, this will have a detrimental effect on our businesses, on our jobs.

“They will know how their footfall functions so it is essential that we engage with them because they are the ones who understand the flow and how things function.”

Not closing off Academy Street but opening it up

While Greens leader Chris Ballance was totally behind the scheme saying: “Inverness is now a city, and we need a clear vision to create a modern city. A city is a place you drive to, then walk round. A town is somewhere you drive through. Often without stopping.

“This is not closing off Academy Street, it is opening up Academy Street to pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrians and cyclists visit shops.

“If the argument is that we need through traffic to generate trade, are we also saying we should end the pedestrianization of High Street and turn that into a traffic thoroughfare?

“As a former owner of a small shop I can understand the fear that comes with any change – particularly in this era of Tory economic chaos. But Academy Street is not a healthy place.

“It regularly appears in the top ten of Scotland’s most polluted streets. It is not a pleasant environment to be in. The vision for the city is to make the city alive, with people living in it, a vibrant café and entertainment culture, clean air, green spaces.

“This proposal is the key development to create this. Cars will still be able to visit – 4500 car parking spaces within five minutes walk of Academy Street. Buses and taxis will still have access. Visitors arriving by bus or train will no longer walk out to fumes, noise and dirt.”

He added: “I don’t understand any objections from BID members. BID signed up to the Inverness City Vision which states ‘Gone will be a city center prioritised for cars…. Instead priority will be given to pedestrians and cyclists.’

“This is what this proposal does.”

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