Published: 02/12/2017 19:00 - Updated: 30/11/2017 12:48

City Vision sets out priorities for future Highland growth

Written byGregor White


city centre
A new set of development priorities is up for discussion by councillors.

COUNCILLORS are being asked to approve plans for a list of priorities that it is hoped will provide a strong framework for future development of both Inverness and the wider Highland area.

A set of proposed City Priorities went before the council’s city of Inverness area committee on Thursday.

They are due for discussion by the full council at a later date.

The high level City Vision is based around several themes, with council officers saying it will be important in "developing the relationship between the city and the Highlands, as well as supporting the case for more investment from both the private and public sector."

The report to the area committee details how the population of Inverness grew by almost a fifth in the 20 years from 1991 to 2011, up to over 79,000 people.

The council’s current development plan allocates land for more than 9000 new homes and 190 hectares of "employment land".

"The strategy for growth focuses on strengthening the city centre, restricting urban sprawl and increasing the sustainability of existing neighbourhoods, including increased opportunities for active travel and use of public transport," it states.

"Growth will be delivered by directing development to key regeneration sites, including the city centre, and to areas allocated for major expansion on the city’s southern and eastern flanks."

The Inverness Courier’s ongoing Reinvent the City Centre campaign has argued for the idea of the area as a major driver of the wider regional economy.

This is echoed in the City Vision which talks of it "supporting a strong and vibrant Highlands."

The campaign has also championed the idea of different groups working together for mutual benefit and likewise the Vision talks about an area that "thrives on collaboration between organisations and communities."

The vision organises priorities are organised under four themes - A Place to Live, A Place to Learn, A Place to Thrive, and A Welcoming Place, setting out broad aims in terms of housing, education, business, transport and tourism.

The vision states that the council’s "first priority" is to the people living and working, growing up in or settling in the area and sets out aims for more affordable homes for younger people and families as well as more accommodation for the homeless, the elderly and the vulnerable.

"Working with our partners we will seek public sector infrastructure investment and training opportunities in our deprived communities to create jobs and improve quality of life," it says.

And it adds: "We need to ensure the use of all tools available to us to open up opportunities for more city and town centre residential developments, including compulsory purchase if appropriate."

It points to work already underway to redevelop the former Inverness College Midmills site and on Inverness Town House, while also flagging up future plans for improvements to Inverness Railway Station and Academy Street.

As well as stating it will continue efforts to refurbish and renovate schools it also talks about developing the presence of the University of the Highlands and Islands within the city and wider area "to enhance options for the retention of young people within the city and region and encourage sector growth in industries."

Other aims include ensuring superfast broadband and digital services across communities, improved transport infrastructure – with the West Link and East Link projects as well as plans for a new Longman interchange and Dalcross railway station all detailed, along with aims for bus services that "provide for communities to access employment opportunities and generally support community vibrancy".

And it also sets out aims to collaborate with businesses and other partners to promote the Highlands as a desirable place to work.

The council recently undertook work with Highlands and Islands Enterprise to look at how Inverness could be come a "magnet city", a concept developed by international professional services firm KPMG that describes how successful cities are those that do best in attracting young people, have an easily identifiable identity and are well connected and open to new ideas and ways of working, including closer working between the public and private sectors.

Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird said it was right that the city, and the city centre in particular, is acknowledged as a key driver of the Highland economy in the vision.

"Anyone who tried to claim to the contrary would be quite simply wrong, particularly when it comes to the Inner Moray Firth area where people rely on it so heavily for work," he said.

And despite being an opposition councillor he said he was happy to support the City Vision as "a starting point" for improvements across the board.

"As a starting point it is important, but it’s also important to recognise that that is all it is," he said.

"This is the council administration setting out what it wants to do – and who is going to argue against better transport links or more affordable housing?

"The question, though, is exactly how you go about achieving those aims and how they are balanced against everything else.

"I think the public are well-used by now to having their expectations raised by visions and plans.

"I’m more than happy to support this one and hope that we can achieve everything that it encompasses.

"It’s the step on from here though, getting down to the nitty-gritty, that is the most important thing."

Linda Kirkland of residents’ campaign group Inverness City Centre Improvement called the vision "laudable" and welcomed the overall "strategic direction" but hoped to see more detail to back it up and expand on key areas.

"For me it sets out a direction but there is little detail in timescales and what exactly is to be done," she said.

"But there does not seem to be much detail about how the communities can influence/ direct or be involved in the plans. We need to see the detailed plans."

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