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Call for free parking in Inverness city centre to aid coronavirus recovery

By Ian Duncan

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City business leaders have called for free parking at Rose Street to be extended.
City business leaders have called for free parking at Rose Street to be extended.

Parking in Inverness city centre should be free to help with the city’s post-coronavirus economic recovery, according to business leaders.

The call was made by Mike Smith, the manager of Inverness Business Improvement District (BID) who said both the Rose Street and Eastgate Shopping Centre car parks – currently free for key workers – could continue not charging motorists.

Mr Smith said that people might need to be actively encouraged to return to the city centre as lockdown measures ease.

He said: “One of the things that would help with that is free parking at all the city centre car parks, just as it is for the retail parks.

Mike Smith.
Mike Smith.

“We need to ensure people feel confident and welcome.”

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: “I agree with this proposal as we are going to have to be extremely innovative in ensuring the best outcome to rebuilding our economy locally and across the Highlands.

Stewart Nicol.
Stewart Nicol.

“We also have to think differently and there will probably be no easy answers and seldom binary choices.”

He said there would always be a reliance on private cars in the Highlands, but measures such as restricting traffic in certain areas of the city could also help encourage more cycling and walking.

Environmental campaigners also want more emphasis on encouraging greener modes of transport.

Highlands and Islands Green Party MSP John Finnie hit out at the free parking idea and said: “Once again the usual vested interests, and prophets of doom, call on the public purse to pay to support their members’ profit.

John Finnie.
John Finnie.

“Economic regeneration is vital but it will require a substantial rethink and not more of the past failed approaches.”

Referring to recent moves by Highland Council to implement greener travel routes in the city as a response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as news of major redevelopment plans around the city’s train and bus stations, he added: “I encourage the council to ignore last century thinking, continue to follow the evidence, progress their great work with the Spaces for All plans and get fully behind the excellent transport hub initiative.”

A Highland Cycle Campaign spokesman said: “The council should continue to pursue active travel as the number one way to reduce congestion, tackle air pollution and help the economic recovery in Inverness and across towns in the Highlands.

“It has been demonstrated that those who walk or cycle into cities do so more often and spend more over the course of a month than those who drive.”

Highland Council is beginning work this week to implement green travel routes around the city, after securing £752,954 from the Scottish Government for the work it hopes will encourage healthier travel modes.

A spokesman said: “There are no proposals in place for free parking in Inverness at this time.

“Covid-19 has already impacted significantly on the council’s budget and, in particular, income generation from various sources, including parking.

“Further income loss would widen the budget gap and put increased pressure on other services as a result.”

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