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Black Isle Bar raises concerns about Highland Council excluding businesses over the Academy Street revamp

By Scott Maclennan

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The Black Isle Hostel is on Academy Street while the Bar faces onto Church Street. Picture: SPP.
The Black Isle Hostel is on Academy Street while the Bar faces onto Church Street. Picture: SPP.

The Black Isle Bar & Rooms has raised concerns about the methods employed by Highland Council in its attempt to revamp Academy Street – specifically the economic impact assessment.

The bar and hostel belonging to the eponymous brewery is located on both Academy Street and Church Street, is the latest in a long line of major businesses to question the local authority.

The Academy Street proposals have been severely criticised by Inverness BID, the Eastgate Centre, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s, as well as many independent operators for appearing to impose the changes.

The most recent flashpoint in the dispute between the authority and businesses is that the economic impact assessment – already criticised as a desktop exercise looking only at the positives – excludes input from local traders.

The Black Isle Bar argues it and others need to have their say because an accurate economic picture of Inverness cannot be determined “without gathering data from the businesses currently occupying the city centre?”.

The council wants to slash traffic through the city centre by 70 per cent, block it as a thoroughfare by dividing the street in two at Strother’s Lane as well as restricting access to Church Street.

Active travel activists have welcomed the plans backing the council’s claims that it would increase footfall in the city centre and therefore help businesses – businesses vehemently disagree.

Now the Black Isle Bar – famed for its organic and ecologically sensitive approach – has outlined its questions and concerns in an email to councillors and the council chief executive Derek Brown.

In it, the bar asks how an economic impact assessment let alone an accurate current economic perspective of Inverness city centre can be determined “without gathering data from the businesses currently occupying the city centre?”.

The email states: “We have been made aware of the planned publication of the Economic Impact Assessment and Traffic Impact Assessment conducted for the Academy Street proposals.

“As far as we are able to gather, not a single business on Academy Street or Church Street has been contacted to supply information or data for the EIA.

“I would ask how it is at all possible to provide an informative or reliable assessment of the future impact of this project, or even the current economic picture in Inverness to compare it to, without gathering data from the businesses currently occupying the city centre?

“The terms of reference indicate that this is no more than an attempt to box-tick and enhance the positive aspects of the scheme whilst glossing over any downsides, however significant.

“The failure to gather fundamental information before publication proves that there is no effort at all to provide any useful information in this assessment, whatsoever.

“This appears to be another dubious use of money by Highland Council. What is the point of going through this costly process when you have already dictated the outcome?

“Whatever specific insights to Inverness can be brought by a Canadian based consultancy (most recently involved in the UK on the HS2 project - famed for its’ excellent value for money), we look forward to hearing at the publication of the EIA and TIA.”

Highland Council said it was limited in what it could say as there is the judicial review underway about the consultation process, however, the local authority did address some of the particular concerns raised by the Black Isle Bar.

A spokesperson said: “Engagement with the technical aspects of WSP’s work was included within the scope of work. This was to ensure that business representative organisations could feed into the process on behalf of their members and share useful data and information.

“Five business representative organisations engaged with the process of conducting the Economic Impact Assessment and the Traffic Impact Assessment and were encouraged to cascade information down to their members.

“The process for both technical assessments did not include detailed interviews with individual business owners within Inverness. Instead, we maximised the use of the business representative organisations to allow them to capture concerns and questions from their members.

“WSP is a Canadian based company, but has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth and has worked in Inverness for a number of years.

“As always Highland Council welcome any direct enquiries on the Academy Street proposals from businesses which should be directed to activetravel@highland.gov.uk to ensure this reaches the project team directly.”

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