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Inverness active travel is still a hot topic


By Scott Maclennan

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An artist's impression of how Castle Street could have looked under plans that were ultimately rejected.
An artist's impression of how Castle Street could have looked under plans that were ultimately rejected.

The Spaces for People scheme in Inverness divided opinion in a similar way to its design for dividing motorists and active travellers – while providing social distancing space.

A flashpoint was the one-way system around Inverness Castle which sparked heated debate with those who support active travel saying it was a flawed, but generally positive development.

They argued it was good for the environment, health and a major step towards improving the city that would make it more business friendly.

But some business leaders opposed the scheme, arguing it was having a negative impact on trade, while motorists complained of congestion.

We asked opposite sides of the debate for their views:

Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie

Councillor Andrew Jarvie. Picture: Callum Mackay
Councillor Andrew Jarvie. Picture: Callum Mackay

The scheme was developed by Highland Council in secret, rolled out without notice, developed further under an air of mystery and then when councillors finally tried to take control – they were told it was not possible.

It begs the question, if it is really such a win-win, why couldn’t it come forward and be decided in a fair debate?

It is now abundantly clear it is the agenda-driven Trojan horse I called it originally.

It’s not even as if this scheme has been a great success for pedestrians, even if the cost

to drivers and businesses is immense.

Not even the most fervent of supporters of this have said it has been a success and encouraging more people to walk and cycle – even if it was introduced for social distancing.

The council’s first figures showed that it had actually discouraged walking and cycling across the

city.

Despite surveying the wrong part of Millburn Road, this officer report still wanted to keep it.

The next time they surveyed Millburn Road, it claimed a 1100 per cent increase in cycling because of the green paint. Has anyone seen 11 cyclists, let alone 11 times the number using it there?

At a time when businesses have never needed more support, why on earth would we erect physical barriers to people getting in?

Let’s assess it by its intentions: it has not seen hugely more walking and cycling, it has not cut pollution by creating queues of idling traffic and it has not created social-distancing space because no one actually uses it.

Inverness Central councillor Emma Roddick

Councillor Emma Roddick. Picture: James MacKenzie
Councillor Emma Roddick. Picture: James MacKenzie

I don’t think anyone liked the Spaces for People measures brought in due to Covid. They were frantic and temporary and, worse, they looked it. But you don’t decide not to build your house because you don’t like scaffolding, and the principle of taking space back from cars and giving it to people is one which extends beyond social distancing arguments.

Many opponents of permanent proposals relied on this bizarre idea that what we had pre-Covid worked. It didn’t. The city was unsuitable for anyone walking, wheeling, or cycling – and businesses struggled.

Active travel isn’t an option for everyone; I understand that more than most. But if we are to ensure that those who need to drive to get around can do so – and park on arrival – those who don’t must be encouraged to explore other options.

Visitors and residents hopping off the bus to be welcomed by narrow pavements and constant traffic on one of the most polluted streets in the country is surely not the best first impression Inverness can give.

We must take bold action to tackle climate change and encourage people back into local businesses. Cars don’t shop, people do, and all the data we have tells us that most people shopping in the city centre arrive by foot, bicycle, or public transport. It only makes sense to put them first.

Giving spaces back to people is a necessary step to widen access to public spaces, promote active, green travel, and increase footfall for local businesses.

Do you agree with either councillor? Let us know your thoughts by emailing newsdesk@hnmedia.co.uk


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