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Inverness BID accuses Highland Council of ‘misleading’ statements over Academy Street in complaint

By Scott Maclennan

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The co-chairman of Inverness BID Craig Duncan. Picture: Callum Mackay.
The co-chairman of Inverness BID Craig Duncan. Picture: Callum Mackay.

Highland Council has been accused of being “incorrect and/or misleading” by an Inverness business organisation representing hundreds of traders.

It is over proposals to revamp Academy Street aimed at cutting traffic.

But the local authority refused to address the formal complaint.

Inverness BID’s complaint centres on how the council ran a consultation but also what it feels are shortcomings of other assessments.

At the centre of the dispute is Highland Council’s wish to slash traffic on Academy Street by 70 per cent provoking outrage from traders by expelling vehicles via Strothers Lane or back along Academy Street and allowing only very limited traffic through Church Street.

The complaint was signed by co-chairmen Colin Craig and Craig Duncan and the whole board of directors – except those who are Highland councillors.

Fundamental to the case made by BID is that the consultation was deeply flawed – a view shared by Eastgate Shopping Centre officials involved in a judicial review. It is claimed it failed to live up to statutory guidelines.

BID accuses the council of issuing “incorrect and/or misleading” statements to develop a “narrative” that they have engaged fully with local businesses – something flatly contradicted by BID as well as dozens of businesses.

The complaint stated: “The narrative that BID and businesses have been given numerous opportunities for engagement throughout the project life cycle and that Highland Council have offered numerous meetings and engagement sessions is, we aver, incorrect and/or misleading.”

BID also has concerns about an independent economic impact assessment of the plans.

It fears the consultants will be undertaking a desktop exercise – meaning they will not be in Inverness – and the assessment is unduly limited to the “positives” of the project without input from traders.

BID said the council has instructed the consultants “to focus predominantly on the positive benefits of the project, primarily in respect to transport economics” and this will be done “remotely” with “minimal real business input”.

It added: “Our reasonable request that city centre businesses be permitted to participate in the exercise was refused by Highland Council.”

Finally, BID is concerned about the absence of an equality impact assessment, something apparently demanded by Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG), on aspects such as accessibility and socio-economic disadvantage.

There are ongoing concerns that the changes could come at the potential expense of disabled or elderly people who need vehicles so the council “must reasonably identify potential benefits as well as challenges”.

But it is not known yet what the council makes of these claims because it said it would be “inappropriate” to comment further because of the judicial review.

In the response to BID, seen by The Inverness Courier, the council said: “My conclusion is that it is not possible to address your complaint without there being a degree of overlap with an ongoing court action.”

The concern is that any probe could “potentially prejudice an ongoing court action which Highland Council is involved in.”

The council has indicated that after the judicial review is determined it will contact BID to discuss progressing the complaint and that there is no need for them to resubmit it.

A spokesperson said: "We can confirm that a judicial review is underway so it is not appropriate for the council to provide any comment. We can also confirm that the complaint is with us and it will be going through our complaints procedure once the review has been concluded.”

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