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Inverness BID slams aims of 'flawed and incomplete' Academy Street economic assessment

By Scott Maclennan

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Academy Street at night – the council hopes that the changes will boost the night-time economy. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Academy Street at night – the council hopes that the changes will boost the night-time economy. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Inverness BID has slammed Highland Council's approach to an economic impact assessment (EIA) for the latter’s Academy Street plans as “flawed and incomplete” suggesting that it was aimed at promoting “strong narrative” regarding the”‘positives.”

A day after The Courier revealed how the council; was planning to conduct the long promised EIA, the board of directors has issued a statement condemning what it sees as another betrayal of good faith.

The project aims to cut traffic on Academy Street by 70 per cent by blocking it off as a through road in a bid to increase footfall – but city centre businesses say that plan will devastate trade.

Inverness BID represents more than 700 city properties and has been against the proposals since the council changed them at the eleventh hour to pass them at the Inverness committee without consultation.

Yesterday, The Courier reported how the tender for the EIA should “seek to quantify or qualitatively report” that the “core benefits are journey ambience (cycle infrastructure enhancements) and physical activity (new users walking and cycling through the area)” along with “minor” air quality and noise benefits forecast.

The only mention of consideration to be given to disadvantages of the proposed changes is a request to record “journey time disbenefits for car users”, placed against “bus journey time savings for bus users.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Directors at Inverness BID Ltd said: “We have significant concerns regarding the Economic Impact Assessment Terms of Reference as have been applied by Highland Council in respect to the Academy Street proposals.

“We acknowledge the apparent and relevant skillset of the appointed contractor and note that has never been questioned.

“Our focus instead is on the greatly restricted brief that they have been given and must adhere to which arguably could be summed up as 'tell us why our already preferred option is the right answer.’

“This arguably could be compared to instructing a house survey with a directive to the surveyor that you only want a ‘strong narrative’ regarding the ‘positives’. Who would reasonably complete a sale on such flawed and incomplete terms?”

A particular area of bitterness are claims made by the council of ongoing consultation – something the spokesperson took particular issue with while demanding an impartial and comprehensive EIA.

They said: “To suggest that businesses and/or their representatives will be engaged with ‘throughout the process’ is also regrettably misleading and contrasts to the reality given that our reasonable request that our City Centre business community must be included and allowed to partake in the EIA process was refused and as there are no further engagement sessions with business representatives permitted, (with permitted engagement to date being minimal) until the unveiling of the EIA results in March.

“Examining the proposals impartially, comprehensively and in a balanced way (including from an equality impact perspective) would overall, we contend, be a strength, not a weakness and would allow mitigation measures to be taken where any challenges are identified.

“In good faith that is what businesses thought was going to happen when the exercise after many months of requests was finally promised last summer.

“In lieu of the above we therefore urge Highland Council to revisit and extend the Terms of Reference in respect to both the Economic and Equality Impact Assessments in order to allow for a more balanced and inclusive approach to be taken which extends beyond emphasis on transport economics primarily and which better reflects the needs, interests and concerns of many in the local business as well as many others within our wider community.

“We note in closing that in regard to Academy Street BID Board announcements, that reference to the ‘BID Board’ for this matter is with the exclusion of our two BID Directors who have declared a conflict of interest in respect to the item due to also being Highland Councillors and thus who have measures in place at board level excluding their involvement.”

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