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Exclusive: Ambitious proposals released by MP Drew Hendry to make Inverness environmentally sustainable, family-friendly, culture-rich and economically prosperous as a first step to developing an all-encompassing strategy for the UK's most northerly city


By Scott Maclennan

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The Inverness Futures group believes that Inverness needs a distinct vision if it wants to realise its potential as a modern city. Picture: Scott MacDonald / Flying Scotsman UAS
The Inverness Futures group believes that Inverness needs a distinct vision if it wants to realise its potential as a modern city. Picture: Scott MacDonald / Flying Scotsman UAS

An ambitious strategy for the future of Inverness is being published today.

The Courier can reveal that the plan, dubbed Inverness 2035, aims to make the city a welcoming, business-minded, cultural, green and sustainable city.

That can perhaps be summed up in one phrase from the Inverness Futures Group’s 20-page report: “Inverness won’t just be a city for visitors – it will be a place to enjoy for those who live here.”

That translates into the most ambitious series of proposals – developed by a group of influential figures from various backgrounds including business, politics and the arts – that have been set before the public in the city’s history.

The report states: “If we want Inverness to realise its potential as a modern city – to be attractive to visitors and investors alike – then we must recognise that Inverness requires a distinct vision.”

That is, make Inverness as environmentally sustainable, family-friendly, culture-rich, economically prosperous, with an advanced travel network as any you would find in Scandinavia – but with a Highland welcome.

Area MP Drew Hendry is the driving force behind the plans, and he wants to challenge both the private and public sectors to pick up the gauntlet and move the city forward.

In part, it stems from frustration that more than two decades after Inverness officially became a city it still lacks a focused development strategy.

That is something he feels has left Inverness moving without proper direction and losing momentum economically.

In the background to the proposals is the success Dundee experienced over the last 20 years, including the addition of the already iconic V&A museum.

The efforts made there saw the city move from being considered one of Scotland’s least attractive, to one of its most sought-after for business and residents.

However, there are two elephants in the room, the first is if a final blueprint can be agreed at all, and the second is if it can, then how is it paid for.

When Dundee launched its 30-year plan for regeneration to turn the city into a thriving cultural centre in 2001 it budgeted around £1 billion.

But funding streams could be limited because the UK government’s much-vaunted levelling-up cash is expected to fall far short after the Highlands were assessed as not of the greatest need.

Public sentiment outside the city could also be enormously hostile due to the City-Region Deal, which is still perceived as a win for Inverness and nothing much for elsewhere.

Despite those obstacles, Inverness 2035 insists that if a start is not made, then nothing will be done as it seeks to build on what the city already offers and add what it currently lacks.

Key touchstones are wellbeing and mental health; online and travel connectivity; green spaces and environmentally sustainable; and securing a thriving economy.

The paper is described as a starting point for business, the local authority, the health board, enterprise agencies and others to get on board and work together.

The key challenge posed is: “If this is not the Inverness we should aspire to be, then what is it, how do we describe it and, perhaps most importantly, how are we going to get there?”

In addressing that question, the vision of the city laid out in Inverness 2035 is unmistakably environmentally sustainable, but also pro-business.

Whether businesses agree remains to be seen, but the strategy tackles a range of highly controversial issues that plagued local policy-makers and wasted valuable time.

One such contentious issue is active travel, with massively unpopular temporary cycle lanes sparking outrage when Highland Council sought to make them permanent.

Even supporters of the scheme acknowledged they were not perfect, while many businesses said they could be devastating for trade – the last thing the city needs.

However, both sides of that argument believed that if active travel was to be made a reality then a comprehensive plan was needed, so is Inverness 2035 it?

According to Mr Hendry, the answer would be not necessarily, but it could be, what is needed at first is recognition of priorities and targets, then reaching for them.

“Almost 21 years ago, Inverness became a city,” he said. “Yet we’ve never set out a shared vision of what kind of city it could and should be. Collectively we have missed this opportunity, and that includes me, when I was council leader.

“Now is a good time to correct that, look forward, and address the question – what is the vision for Inverness city?

“What I know for sure is that to fully answer that question, we need to capture the spirit and hopes of people living here.

“The answer lies in their ambitions for the place, and we need to build these into the decisions we make today and in the future.

“This isn’t a mere planning exercise, nor is it the responsibility of any single organisation – we all have a role to play, and to get this right we need to work collectively, openly, across organisations and the political divide.

“If we don’t seize the opportunity to set out a vision for the city, we will unintentionally make growth harder on ourselves, inhibiting business growth and reducing the wealth and wellbeing of the people living in the city and across the Highlands.

“So, why not make it easier on ourselves and work together to describe the next chapter of Inverness?”

Further updates will be released throughout the day but you can read the full Inverness 2035 strategy proposals by clicking here

Who are the Inverness Futures Group that designed the ambitious plans?

The team behind the proposals have extensive experience across the public and private sectors and although they contributed their time, offering their own personal insights and perspectives, they were not representing their organisations.

Instead those organisations and agencies will be encouraged in the coming months and years to contribute now that they have seen the Inverness 2035 strategy, so that a formal framework can potentially be brought into being.

The Inverness Futures Group is chaired by MP Drew Hendry but the collective brings together some of the main players in the city's arts and culture, business and public sectors.

One of those who came forward when asked was Alasdair Dodds, the current chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), who brought with him 18 years of experience at Highland Council, latterly as chief executive.

Others on the Inverness Futures Group included:

  • Catherine Bunn – the owner of Highland Campervans, but is also a highly active member of her community, where she is both a local community councillor and a strong voice on the Culloden Academy parent council.
  • Charlie Lawrence – a recognised property expert in Inverness and the wider Highlands, having worked at some of the country’s top companies in the sector like Ryden and now Graham and Sibbald, as well as Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
  • Chris O’Neil – the principal and chief executive of Inverness College UHI, which is viewed by the strategy as being one of the anchor institutions that could open opportunities for generations to come.
  • George Moodie – the regional head of agriculture and fishing at Virgin Money, and the president of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, brings financial experience from the private sector.

The group also included Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol, while Sam Faircliff, of Cairngorms Brewery, has local producers’ experience.

Steve Walsh, chief executive of High Life Highland – the council’s at arms reach charity leisure provider – was also involved and he has experience working for the council and in the RAF.

And the cultural sector was represented by Eden Court’s chief executive James Mackenzie-Blackman, and the venue’s head of engagement Lucy McGlennon.

If not this then what? The Inverness Futures Group behind the strategy say this is the start rather than the end of the process

The group behind the Inverness 2035 strategy has underlined that its work is not the finish line, but the starting gun on developing a concrete vision for the city, its future and most of all its people.

After months of work, the Inverness Futures Group is calling on all levels of government, enterprise agencies, businesses from the largest company to smallest trader to have an input into the plan.

That is why the final words of the document are: “The question to be posed from this paper is; if this is not the Inverness we should aspire to be, then what is it, how do we describe it and, perhaps most importantly, how are we going to get there?”

Being a question not a conclusion is intended to invite those agencies from Highland Council to Highlands and Islands Enterprise as well as community groups and other civic bodies to the table.

The group states: “This paper has set out what Inverness 2035 could look like at the heart of a thriving Highlands; as a welcoming, successful, green, sustainable city, with physical and mental health and wellbeing at its core. In doing so, it also provides a picture of how policy decisions, aspirations and collaborative working might achieve this.

“While no one organisation is responsible for the delivery of Inverness’s vision, this vision cannot be delivered without cooperation between public organisations, businesses and communities that will need to work in collaboration.

“The vision for Inverness also needs to be resilient to political cycles and changes in leadership. This can be achieved by creating a One City, One Vision stakeholder group.”


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