SPECULATION is rife that a key Inverness site could soon be available for redevelopment as Royal Mail looks set to move out of town.
The organisation could soon be abandoning its cramped Strothers Lane sorting office in favour of a new location on the Longman industrial estate.
It has emerged that "an undisclosed buyer" has paid £2.58 million for a 54,300sq ft property off Seafield Road.
And although the new owners have not been announced, Royal Mail previously lodged plans with Highland Council seeking a change of use for a Seafield Road property which would "allow the relocation of Royal Mail’s Inverness operation", describing the Strothers Lane site as "significantly constrained".
A Royal Mail spokeswoman was unable to confirm the plans when contacted by the Inverness Courier last night.
But the possibility that the Strothers Lane site could soon be available for redevelopment was met with delight by leading city centre figures.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said the site was a key part of the overall jigsaw for the development of the city centre.
"It would be a very significant development and really important in freeing up that space around Farraline Park bus station. It’s also at the back of the library and I think we need to be ambitious in what we can put there."
Two years ago radical plans for opening up Inverness railway station into Strothers Lane came under consideration as it was acknowledged better links and access were needed between the railway and bus station as well as other parts of the city centre.
And last week plans for a radically improved station frontage were announced, with the £6 million transformation set to go out to tender later this year.
Mr Nicol said it would be important to use any of the space currently occupied by Royal Mail to connect the bus and railway stations.
"Freeing up the Royal Mail property basically opens up the space and makes it look much more like a single transport hub for the city," he said, pointing out that the idea of creating a civic space around the library has also been discussed.
"Lots could be done."
Pat Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, also described the news as "very exciting" especially as it followed recent disappointing revelations that plans to demolish the two-tier car park and nearby hall in Rose Street were no longer going ahead.
"I am very pleased to hear this. It is wonderful," she said.
"It is a very big building which the Royal Mail occupies and they also have a fair bit of land opposite it. Presumably, Royal Mail will put it on the market to sell?
"I would like to think a deal could be done for the good of Inverness – not just another commercial venture but something civic or for the community.
"I don’t know what is possible, but people have to give a lot of thought to this. I will be very interested to see what they come up with."
Mrs Hayden speculated it would be a good location to house a new building for the city’s museum.
Inverness Business Improvement District (Bid) manager Mike Smith said anything which helped improve city centre footfall would be welcome.
"As it is such a large site, there is a lot that could be done with it," he said.
"An office development, for example, could bring more people into the city centre as well as opening up that whole vista, which at the moment is very enclosed.
"It’s certainly significant in terms of the future aspirations for our city centre and very exciting in terms of what could be offered."
Ranald Robertson, director of HiTrans, acknowledged there would be much public interest and debate in the future use of the Strothers Lane site as part of a broader vision for the city centre should it become available.
"The availability of a vacant site close to the railway station would clearly provide an opportunity to help facilitate better integration between bus and rail services," he said.
"It might also open an opportunity to extend the operational area of Inverness rail station which might be worthy of looking at."