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Highland Council in city centre project buyout as it takes over the former Arnotts building in Inverness’s Union Street as work finally gets under way on a £12.5 million project to transform it into flats and retail space


By Scott Maclennan


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The former Arnotts building is to be turned into a mix of new flats and retail space.
The former Arnotts building is to be turned into a mix of new flats and retail space.

Highland Council has taken over the former Arnotts building in Inverness’s Union Street as work finally gets under way on a £12.5 million project to transform it into flats and retail space.

The council paid £600,000 for the property, pledging to see through the development of 53 flats and six retail units in the prominent site.

It is understood the buyout, from Swilken Estates, was prompted by the local authority being better placed to access funding to rejuvenate the B-listed building.

The building’s original facade will be restored thanks to an award of £112,958 of Scottish Government funding for town centres.

But while the council now owns the majority of the property, Swilken, operating under the name Forthpoint, retains the retail units and will be responsible for their redevelopment.

Four shop spaces will face onto Union Street with two, including a continental style café/ restaurant space, at the building’s rear, in Baron Taylor’s Street.

The upper floors will be turned into flats with the council renting out 31 properties and Highland Housing Alliance making 22 flats available for mid-market rent.

The surprise purchase by the council comes as work starts on the ground for the transformation which represents the largest city centre development project since the Eastgate Shopping Centre extension in 2003.

As with most other building projects it had been delayed by the coronavirus lockdown.

A spokeswoman for the local authority said: “Highland Council purchased the property as part of its commitment to regenerate Inverness city centre by renovating and refurbishing an iconic but now derelict building.

“Highland Council is working along with Highland Housing Alliance and a commercial property company, Forthpoint, to bring forward the redevelopment of a building with frontages to Union Street and Baron Taylor’s Street.

“The building, formerly occupied as offices and retail units, was for many years the Inverness branch of well-known retailer Arnotts.

“The premises have been purchased by the council who have let a contract which will redevelop the upper floors to deliver 53 new residential units with six new retail units on the ground floor.”

The redevelopment is expected to be finished by October 2022 with as many as 200 people employed during construction.

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the council’s intervention.

“We have got particular challenges over the shift in shopping habits in the past year that accelerated a trend, so I think this is really positive news,” he said.

“We have got a number of innovative solutions that have been public sector-led around housing in the city centre. So this is good to see this secured and go forward on that basis.”

Stuart Pender of Swilken Estates said: “We are excited to finally begin the construction phase of this major development, which is set to provide a huge boost to the city and local economy.

“After what has been an unprecedented 12 months for the retail sector we are delighted to be making such a significant investment in Inverness city centre.

“The building will be at the heart of the regeneration of this and the wider city centre area, including adjacent Academy Street and a revamped entry point to the centre from nearby Inverness rail and bus stations.”


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