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BUSINESS INSIGHT: There's still time for meaningful talk about Academy Street revamp plan

By Lorraine Bremner McBride

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An artist's impression of a future Academy Street.
An artist's impression of a future Academy Street.

Following the BID event in Eden Court last year, the announcement that there would be an independent economic impact assessment (EIA) in respect to the Academy Street proposals was widely welcomed by the city centre business community.

Ensuring that plans as far as possible are fully context and evidence led was deemed to be essential given the potential consequences at what is already a challenging time for many businesses and households.

At the time of writing, we are disappointed therefore to report our serious concerns that the economic impact exercise, as it stands, appears to be progressing in a way which may not be aligned with what was anticipated would happen including due to factors which have come to light following a stakeholder’s recent freedom of information request.

The briefing document confirms that the consultants appointed to undertake the assessment have been restricted to examining the already preferred option only without consideration of any other alternatives. The exercise is to be undertaken remotely, in under eight weeks and despite our reasonable request, without a single business or sector in the city centre being engaged or consulted with directly. The brief also appears to mandate that there should be an accentuation of the positive impacts of the preferred plan with an emphasis moreover on transport-related economics, broader economic and qualitative measures.

For individual businesses and sectors this means that one of the repeated key questions may remain unanswered i.e. what will the likely direct economic impact be for my business and our staff/clients/customers?

Businesses and the public – as well as all other stakeholders – must have a genuine opportunity to participate in local decision-making rather than being given what arguably may be viewed otherwise as just ‘an illusion of choice’. There is still time to ensure that change is done ‘with’ and not ‘to’ businesses and people and for meaningful dialogue to take place and by taking a more inclusive and balanced approach this could further improve confidence in any findings and allow us to all hopefully move forward together.

Lorraine Bremner McBride is an Inverness BID director.

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