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Inverness councillors look to the future as they agree to progress plans to keep active travel measures but businesses critical of the move fear they will be marginalised amid deep divisions

By Scott Maclennan

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The active travel barriers on Academy Street which have divided opinion.
The active travel barriers on Academy Street which have divided opinion.

FUTURE generations will be grateful for a decision to make active travel measures within the city centre permanent.

That was the view of one councillor as members of the Inverness city committee agreed to draw up plans to make the Spaces for People schemes in Academy Street, Millburn Road and Riverside Way permanent.

The new pedestrian and road routes were devised to make social distancing easier during the pandemic.

Inverness Central councillor Emma Roddick (pictured) believes a move to now make them permanent is the right thing to do.

“We have an inaccessible and outdated city centre, we are not pedestrian friendly, we are not climate friendly, we are not climate change friendly and we are not disability friendly,” she said.

“Spaces for People has the potential to change all that.

“I really believe that in 50 years time there is going to be a piece in the Inverness Courier with photos of how the city centre used to look – with congestion and air pollution and pavements that are incompatible with wheelchairs and prams – and folk who haven’t been born yet will look at those photos and be amazed that Inverness ever used to look so ugly.

“And they will be proud that, back in 2021, we decided to centre our spaces around people, not vehicles.”

John Davidson, convener of the Highland Cycle Campaign also welcomed last week’s decision.

“It’s fantastic to hear that plans will be developed to make some of the temporary cycle routes into permanent infrastructure that will make the city centre more accessible to people of all abilities walking and wheeling,” he said.

“We acknowledge that there were some teething problems with parts of the schemes and that they were not particularly pleasing on the eye, but well-designed permanent routes can help make the city more attractive and indeed more welcoming.”

Dr Katie Walter, who was one of more than 120 clinicians to pen an open letter to councillors calling on them to agree the move ahead of last week’s meeting, said: “I am glad that there has been a commitment to a city-wide strategy as well as to a sound consultation process.

“It’s really important to get any definitive infrastructure right, especially for those with disabilities, so there is work to be done here.

“Not shutting the door on changes was the key.”

Norman MacDonald, the owner of Café One in Castle Street, however, insisted firms had seen a genuine downturn in trade as a result of the Spaces for People measures and feared for their long-term future.

In response to previous remarks by supporters of the scheme he said: “Claims that our objections are not evidence-based are ridiculous, because anyone who is in business is dealing with daily, weekly and monthly budgets and forecasts and all the things that go with that.”

Going forward the council has committed to consulting with communities and business representatives, including those from disability access groups.

But Mr MacDonald said: “Consultation is internal among the council and whenever it involves anyone from outside then it is purely lip service.”

Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie also questioned whether businesses would really be listened to.

“It is make or break for so many businesses, but this emergency message just isn’t getting through,” he claimed.

“What this devastating decision by all other councillors does is reward failure.

“Yet again, this council judges the success of something by its intentions rather than its outcome.”

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