Councillors agree to spend well over £140,000 of Scottish Government cash rejuvenating Inverness city centre but critics say too little is going to the High Street and too much to a multi-million pound private sector project
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COUNCILLORS have agreed to spend close to £150,000 of Scottish Government cash on improvements to the city centre, with both the High Street and Union Street set to benefit.
The Town Centre Fund aims to boost local employment and the construction sector specifically in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Inverness area received just over £252,000 and this week councillors on the city committee voted on how to divide it up.
Several applications from private businesses were rejected, in favour of others perceived to provide more public benefit.
A move to “declutter” the High Street has been granted £34,510 towards removing unused lighting columns and some bollards as well as restoring paving in a bid to make it more accessible for all.
A total of £112,958 was also granted for the restoration of shopfronts in Union Street forming part of the £10 million redevelopment of the former Arnotts’ building into flats and retail space.
Elsewhere Inverness Men’s Shed received £30,000 towards the refurbishment of a pavilion near Millburn Academy and £75,000 was awarded for the demolition of a vacant shop building in Drumnadrochit.
Provost Helen Carmichael said: “Inverness councillors welcome this town centre funding from the Scottish Government which aims to stimulate local construction activity and support employment in these very difficult Covid times of economic crisis. These shovel-ready projects will provide community benefit and economic boosters as quickly as possible using the funding.”
But not all councillors were entirely pleased how the process was decided, believing that some projects were more deserving of investment than others.
SNP member for Inverness Ness-side, Ron MacWilliam, said: “Some of the allocation is very welcome such as the proposal to declutter the High Street but that could also have been a far more ambitious project.
“Almost half the fund has gone to fund shop fronts at the former Arnott’s building on Union Street, a terrific project that already has £10million funding in place along with detailed planning permission.
“Why it needed a further six figure sum of public money is anyone’s guess.
“I welcome any additional investment in Inverness from the Scottish Government, it’s just a pity that Highland Council is so incapable of maximising these opportunities. There are many buildings and projects in desperate need of investment but which never seem to attract the favour of council leaders.”
Conservative group leader Cllr Andrew Jarvie agreed, saying: “It was a disappointing end to a day which had so much opportunity. Councillors had £250,000 to help stimulate areas, something never needed more with Covid.
“The decluttering of the High Street is warmly welcomed. But as I and others said, it was an underwhelming application from the Council which could have done so much more – only getting 13 per cent of the day’s funding.
“Nearly £113,000 of this was given to a private developer to restore shop fronts, which was already happening as it was part of the planning permission which was granted.
“This was agreed with just three words detailing the cost in in the report. There was no detail on what was actually being done and how it was costing just this much.”