City centre barriers are still dividing opinion
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Opinion over the controversial Spaces for People barriers in Inverness city centre remains sharply divided as the city gets ready to head into a new year.
The barriers cost around £73,000 to install and were placed around the city to improve the opportunities for people to socially distance while walking or cycling through the area.
Most controversial of the changes – as evidenced by social media comment and letters and emails to the Courier – have been those on Millburn Road between the city centre and Raigmore Hospital, and around Castle Street.
Donald MacKenzie, who lives in the Crown area of Inverness, organised a petition against the barriers, which garnered more than 1000 signatures.
A keen cyclist, he said public feeling was certainly running high on the issue.
“The barriers are simply not practical,” he said. “It makes driving in the city centre a real chore, and it will mean people choose to do their business out of town.
“One woman contacted me to say that she was thinking of stopping coming into the town centre to do her business because it was no longer practical. Others from further afield, whose main shopping centre is still Inverness, have said that it is just not suitable for them to come into the city with a bike, and therefore it pushed them to use out of town shopping centres.
“The barriers need to be removed as soon as possible. The city centre businesses are suffering enough already.”
However, city GP Katie Walter said she had been left “depressed and despondent” by calls for the barriers’ removal.
She said: “This is a time for reinvention, not a return to a dismal status quo.
“The urgency now is about trying to reduce cars in the centre of cities, and to make a safer environment for walking, cycling and wheeling.
“Highland Council declared a climate emergency – all their decisions should be benchmarked to that.”
She continued: “Yes, changes are needed. Yes, the current system has problems, but to go backwards is short-sighted.
“These are complex changes that are bound to have teething problems - including some very large teething problems.
“If changes are needed, they need to be positive ones, moving us forwards, even if that means seeking expertise and experience from other areas of the country.
“There are some great examples of what can be achieved in places such as Dundee.”
Highland Council’s head of infrastructure, Colin Howell, said: “The Spaces for People interventions were implemented rapidly as part of an emergency response to a public health crisis. We recognise that changes have had to be made after the measures were implemented, and this is the reality of installing emergency traffic management measures.
“We have been constantly monitoring the one-way system since it was implemented and it is delivering the benefits we set out to achieve. However, we want to ensure that it remains in place to continue to give people confidence that the city centre is a safe and welcoming environment to walk and wheel around.”
He added: “This is particularly important as we move into the festive season where footfall in the city centre tends to increase. These amendments will not only continue to support active travel, but will reduce queuing related with the new one-way system. Further refinements are being considered at View Place to improve the situation for cyclists and traffic and monitoring of all of the Spaces for People interventions continues.”