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Call for school paths in Highland Council green travel plan for Inverness

By Alasdair Fraser

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Changes are planned for the Inverness road network to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to get around safely.
Changes are planned for the Inverness road network to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to get around safely.

Highland Council is already facing calls to be “more ambitious” after winning Scottish Government cash to revolutionise the Inverness road network for safer walking and cycling.

The radical plan to create green routes crossing the city during the Covid-19 lockdown and recovery was awarded an initial £750,954 package through the £10 million Spaces for People initiative.

But campaigners and community leaders want the “pop-up” paths promoting active travel and social distancing to include safe links to city schools, as well as along commuter routes into the city.

The council masterplan involves temporary measures but could lead to a permanent redrawing of city roads to slash pollution and congestion. Widened pathways for cyclists, pedestrians and other wheelers such as mobility scooter users will link health centres and key worker hubs from east to west.

Major roads like Academy Street and Millburn Road will be narrowed to traffic, with reduced speeds and other improvements creating smooth passage across the city. The first of the work, continuing “over several weeks”, began this week. It could eventually feature an evening pedestrianisation of the Old Town to allow bars, cafés and restaurants to use street space with social distancing measures in place.

A consultation process launched on May 15 on Highland Council’s website received 433 comments, with 85 per cent supportive and 12 per cent opposed. But while the council’s plan has been broadly welcomed, support is building for a more ambitious vision.

A Highland Cycling Campaign (HCC) online petition has attracted more than 1200 signatures. It backs the council’s “great initial suggestions” but proposes safe routes schools, with traffic volume reduced in “exclusion zones” around them.

It also wants a north-south active travel route to areas like Lochardil and Holm to match the east-west axis currently on the drawing board.

Other proposals include a 20mph zone across the city, lower speed limits on commuter routes into Inverness and segregated, rather than painted, cycle lanes.

HCC convener John Davidson said: “It has been really good to see this move so quickly and have ambitious plans put in place, but we do feel the network should stretch across the whole city and further afield. We would like to see rural commuter roads included as well.

“Feedback, for instance, suggests there is a real appetite for a safe route from Kirkhill to Inverness, with tourism benefits if we complete a continuous path around the Beauly Firth.”

Dr Maria de la Torre, chairwoman of Lochardil and Drummond Community Council, also called for more ambitious measures, saying: “It is quite forward-looking from Highland Council, but they could go further. We would like to extend the routes to other parts of the city and ensure safe access to schools.

“One of the main routes neglected is on our side of the city, along the east side of the river and Island Bank Road.”

Changes are also set to take place elsewhere in the region.

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael said: “This is a hugely welcome result for Inverness and the wider Highland region that we hope will bring about positive change in an otherwise challenging situation.

“We know these ambitious measures in Inverness are generating debate and discussion, which is what the consultation portal [on the council website] is there for. I encourage everyone that uses these routes to give us their feedback now and as measures are rolled out.”

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