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Inverness BID to Highland Council: 'You have been a wee bit economical with the truth'

By Scott Maclennan

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Craig Duncan Co-Chair Picture: Callum Mackay..
Craig Duncan Co-Chair Picture: Callum Mackay..

The patience of Inverness BID over the hugely controversial multimillion-pound revamp of Academy Street has finally snapped as the organisation has accused Highland Council of being “economical with the truth”.

BID has also filed a formal complaint with the council over its handling of the project which has sparked serious concerns among almost the entire city centre business community. That is on top of Eastgate Shopping Centre seeking a judicial review.

The frustration stems not just from the process of engagement – or lack of it – but the plan itself which is backed by most Inverness councillors and officials, to cut vehicle movements to just 2000-a-day, including buses and taxis.

The proposals would divide the city centre in two between Strothers Lane and Post Office Avenue. Cars from the Millburn direction would either have to retrace their route or exit via Strothers Lane.

Some city centre businesses hate the proposal – they fear it will have a devastating impact on trade, a view backed by an extensive BID survey that found more than 80 per cent are against it in its current form.

One business woman and said: “Inverness is a joke at the moment and Highland Council have to take their responsibility for it.” Picture: Callum Mackay..
One business woman and said: “Inverness is a joke at the moment and Highland Council have to take their responsibility for it.” Picture: Callum Mackay..

One business woman told a BID breakfast meeting yesterday: “Inverness is a joke at the moment and Highland Council have to take their responsibility for it. Talking to the council is like banging your head against a wall.”

There are also real concerns the council does not care about the views of businesses as it has never consulted on the current plans – something disputed by the local authority.

BID vice chairman Gordon McIntosh quoted one unnamed council official as saying: “Businesses come and go, therefore why should the Academy Street proposals take individual business concerns into the equation?”

Take that together with the formal complaint, the accusation of not being honest and the inability to secure a meeting with the scheme’s financial sponsors Sustrans and the depth of dissatisfaction becomes more apparent.

The frustration felt by many at the Spectrum Centre event – which attracted more than 80 traders, residents and Highland councillors – was explicit during a passionate Q&A session.

BID co-chairman Craig Duncan briefed those gathered on the stand-off with the council while warning about the impact of the plans on city centre trade, noting that 86 per cent of businesses are in favour of a “true” compromise, given most want to see Academy Street improved.

But that the tone from BID has also changed dramatically was made clear when Mr Duncan opened it up to questions and Crown and City Centre Community Council member Donald Mackenzie accused the council of “untruths and lies”.

“Consultation doesn't mean the same thing to the council as it does to most dictionaries,” he said. “Consultation [for the council] means we ask you questions and if you don't give the right answer that we want you to give, we will ignore you. We just are not being listened to.”

He continued: “So I'm not at all happy with that. I'm not at all happy with the fact that there have been untruths and lies told by council officers and councillors in support of this project.”

Highland Council's Inverness leader Ian Brown responded: “That is totally unacceptable, saying that councillors are lying. You should be apologising. That is ridiculous. That is not acceptable language, there is no one lying.”

Inverness city leader, Councillor Ian Brown. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Inverness city leader, Councillor Ian Brown. Picture: Callum Mackay..

But the normally mild-mannered Mr Duncan shot back: “But you have been a wee bit economical with the truth, with the economic assessment here. With the Freedom of Information release that we managed to get, it did show that economic assessment is based on good stories about the project rather than an open consultation.”

Far from the scheme improving the city, the chairman of the Inverness City Alliance and Cru Holdings boss Scott Murray warned that many businesses may not even survive the anticipated two-year construction phase.

He said: “Some of our members stated that a drop in revenue of as little as two or three per cent would be enough to make them close their doors. That's quite a sobering number that we have taken to the council.

“We said: ‘Look, if we drop turnover by three per cent, we have to shut the doors now'. I personally employ 150 people in the area – that's 150 people potentially without jobs, 150 families who are financially now going to struggle.

“So we thought it was very, very important that the council listened to that question and to listen to that statement. They didn't.”

Former Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell was the last speaker and slammed the project, saying: “I could just cry over this. Inverness is a beautiful city, Inverness is a wonderful city. Do not let this happen.”

Highland Council officials refused to attend the meeting. Organisers said officials explained the judicial review, formal complaint and short notice were factors.

A spokesman for the local authority said: “We can confirm that a judicial review is under way so it is not appropriate for the council to provide any comment. We can also confirm that the complaint is with us and it will be going through out complaints procedure.”

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