THERE are serious concerns for road safety surrounding tomorrow’s Caley Thistle match against Dunfermline Athletic after a dramatic review of the policing of public events.
From now on, Police Scotland has said it will only deal with traffic management at emergencies or crime scenes.
It has fuelled anxiety among fans and local politicians amid intense concern for crowds making their way to matches – in Inverness and Dingwall.
Historically, traffic management around Highland matches has been covered by an informal arrangement between police and Highland Council. This has included monitoring traffic and pedestrians at Inverness’s Longman Roundabout, where there are no pedestrian crossings.
Police Scotland has, however, looked again at the legislation governing those duties and concluded it has no authority to hold up traffic without a council-issued “temporary traffic regulation order” (TTRO).
There are similar implications for other public events including street marches and political protests. The paperwork involved will cost the two Highland football clubs thousands of pounds per season – £1120 per match.
Police have been widely praised for their traffic management role but the policy change has sent alarm bells ringing.
Caley Thistle fan and city councillor Richard Laird said: “If there’s to be no police presence, and folk going to and from the stadium are running the gauntlet of the A9, it would cause me a considerable degree of concern.
“That’s a safety risk so far as I’m concerned.”
Fellow season ticket holder, road safety campaigner and regional MSP David Stewart, echoed that.
“Police do a first-class job to ensure the safety of fans is paramount,” he said. “I’d be concerned is there was any reduction of their services.”
He is to write to divisional commander George MacDonald about the issue.
Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie, a former long-serving policeman, said: “If there’s to be any substantive change there should be the fullest engagement with those affected and, perhaps, a transitional arrangement put in place.”
According to a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government, the changes “could have a significant impact on event organisers and roads authorities.
She said: “We’ve emphasised to Police Scotland the need for further dialogue between all parties involved to find a way forward.
“We want to understand how the changes will work in practice and ensure the effective introduction of any new approach.”
A spokesman for the force said: “There is currently no temporary traffic road order (TTRO) in place for the Longman Roundabout.
“We’re aware that some pedestrians cross the A9 at the roundabout on match days to reach the football stadium.
“However, we’d urge people to use the designated pedestrian route to the ground from the city centre, which follows Stadium Road under the Kessock Bridge.
“This is a clearly marked route which does not require pedestrians to cross the trunk road. We’ll work with all relevant partners to ensure pedestrians are able to travel to the football stadium safely.”
Caley Thistle chairman Graham Rae said: “We’re making an assessment of the impact and will follow up with the SFA (Scottish Football Association), the SPFL (Scottish Professional Football League) and the police.”
Laura Grant, of the Caley Jags Together supporters’ club, said: “If the change proved detrimental to fans’ safety or deters attendance, we’d be concerned.”
In Dingwall, Ross County operations manager David O’Connor, who retired as a senior police officer three years ago, believes the decision was poorly thought out.
He said: “Ross County’s ground is one of the few with one road in, one road out. We ask the police to stop the traffic coming over the bridge [in Ferry Road] – it’s not really a road closure.
“The last thing we want is for a car to strike a pedestrian. There’s going to have to be a solution because the cost implications for a traffic order every match is not sustainable.”
The issue was debated by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), an independent watchdog, in Glasgow this week. It noted the force would only intervene if a local authority “failed to discharge their duty resulting in an immediate risk to public safety”.
Believing the change would have a “significant impact,” it said the onus was on councils, not the police.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “Local policing is at the heart of Police Scotland, as is our focus of keeping people safe. However, existing legislation does not contain powers to enable police to regulate traffic for pre-planned events.
“Officers have previously assisted event organisers by closing off roads, controlling traffic and ensuring public safety on an informal basis – but, crucially, without lawful authority.”
Highland Council confirmed it had not received a request for a traffic order ahead of Caley Thistle’s home game tomorrow.
A spokeswoman added that there was no cost for traffic orders for a registered charity or if “there is deemed to be a wider community benefit”.
It does not charge for parades or processions although that policy is being reviewed.
Nairn SNP councillor Liz MacDonald, vice-chairwoman of the region’s licensing committee, urged police to continue to offer traffic control advice to event organisers.
“The years of experience built up by the police must not be lost,” she said.
Joe Gibbs, organiser of the Belladrum Tartan Heart Music Festival, said he would approach the police and the local authority to assess how the change might impact his event next year.