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Vote looming on blueprint for future development of Inverness and the inner Moray Firth

By Alasdair Fraser

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Inverness city centre. Picture: Gary Anthony
Inverness city centre. Picture: Gary Anthony

A blueprint guiding all major infrastructure and development projects in Inverness and the inner Moray Firth will be considered by Highland councillors this week.

With far-reaching implications for the future shape of the city and its hinterland, the 300-page document would, if approved, enshrine a new Highland Council planning policy and greatly influence private investment strategy.

Members of the city of Inverness area committee will be asked to approve the vision on Thursday before the document is put out to broader public consultation.

Among the most significant impacts on future city and rural planning would be a greater emphasis on affordable housing development and the council’s climate emergency objectives.

This could lead to permanent changes in Inverness city centre, with a repopulation of disused buildings and empty sites.

It could also mean a shift towards a transport system prioritising walking and cycling as the most “logical and easiest choice” for commuters and shoppers.

The plan also highlights the need for better digital connectivity in response to a shift towards home-working during the pandemic.

A greater emphasis on preserving green spaces would also kill controversial plans to redevelop sites including the former Fairways Golf Course for housing.

Fairways Golf Course.
Fairways Golf Course.

There could also be huge implications for private investment in school buildings, the Longman Industrial Estate, the Porterfield Prison site in Crown once it is vacated, and prime development land along the east coast towards Ardersier.

A ‘main issues’ report by Malcolm MacLeod, the council’s executive chief officer infrastructure and environment, said the priority was “to ensure a coherent development strategy that will deliver the needs of the whole city in a co-ordinated way” amid growth and recovery from Covid-19.

It also recognised high demand for industrial land, affordable housing and significant pressures on school rolls and the local transport network.

At Fairways in Slackbuie, Fairways Inverness Ltd has lodged plans for around 800 houses.

These and neighbouring Tulloch proposals for 1275 houses and a new school on land at Druid Temple Farm and Welltown of Leys have drawn strong local opposition with more than 1400 letters of objection to councillors, planners, MPs and MSPs.

The report lists the Fairways plan as among those on the fringes of the city “not supported”, favouring others where “services, facilities and transport opportunities are closer” to the centre.

The council’s Spaces for People initiative during the pandemic saw officials temporarily redraw the city centre roads system to enable better social-distancing and walking and cycle routes across Inverness.

Inverness city centre. Picture: HNM
Inverness city centre. Picture: HNM

The report hints similar measures could become permanent.

A priority would be to “embed walking and cycling as the logical choice and easiest way to make journeys” across the city centre.

A key part of the strategy will focus on easing the pressure of population numbers on schools and doctor’s surgeries.

Private developers would be encouraged to play a significant part.

The main report stated: “Infrastructure to support communities is under pressure from levels of growth.

“Major expansion of the city, including the delivery of much-needed affordable housing, is dependent on the council committing funds to its capital programme to deliver infrastructure... the preferred and long-established strategy for expansion of the city to the east is dependent on increasing education capacity through the delivery of new schools.

Culloden Academy.
Culloden Academy.

“Schools across the city are experiencing capacity issues and work is under way to tackle these demands, including seeking financial support from developers to mitigate the impact of their developments.”

Priority would be given to developments featuring new schools infrastructure, doctor’s surgeries, public parks and open spaces. The upgrading and expansion of Culloden Academy is also deemed crucial.

The report continued: “We think such an approach is the best way to support growth of the city… and give infrastructure providers such as the council... confidence about where to target limited funds.”

A key priority would be promoting city centre living at “repurposed” sites, including a proposal for a new urban quarter within the Longman Industrial Estate at Shore Street near the harbour.

Also highlighted as a prime development opportunity is the former Porterfield Prison site in Crown.

Within such developments there would be an emphasis on redeveloping existing buildings for office, business, healthcare and community use.

With decommissioning at Fort George planned for completion by 2031, the local development plan would seek to respect the army base’s historical integrity and scheduled monument listing with suitable use.

Fort George. Picture: Gary Anthony
Fort George. Picture: Gary Anthony

Sympathetic business developments would be favoured but housing would not be suitable.

A long-proposed new town development at Whiteness, near Ardersier, could also fall.

Vacant for 20 years, the former fabrication site was previously earmarked for housing, tourism, a marina, school and other business opportunities.

The document, though, makes clear that only industrial-type development would be favoured in the shape of an industrial and energy hub.

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