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Inverness businesses continue to question Academy Street plans

By Gregor White

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Highland councillors are set to decide whether plans to limit traffic on Academy Street can be progressed this week. Picture: James Mackenzie
Highland councillors are set to decide whether plans to limit traffic on Academy Street can be progressed this week. Picture: James Mackenzie

City business groups believe a number of key questions on Academy Street proposals remain unanswered – or have unsatisfactory answers – on the eve of Highland Council's decision on the future of the route.

Inverness Business Improvement District (Bid) and the Inverness City Alliance say the views of local firms have not been properly taken into account as part of the plans that would seek to limit traffic movements on the street by ending its use as a through route by most vehicles.

They have ratcheted up their opposition in recent weeks and months, and this week are continuing to ask why an economic impact assessment was not carried out before, rather than after, councillors on the city committee agreed to the plans.

They also argue that, in their opinion, the plans are being driven by the requirements of national funders for the proposed scheme rather than business, resident or visitor needs.

A spokesperson said: "Sustrans is administering the funding for the Scottish Government and advised Highland Council that its original plan was unlikely to get any funding after which the plan changed to Option B and again to the current proposal on the basis of ‘making a compelling enough case’ to be awarded money."

They also want to know whether there will be any "direct compensation" for any city centre businesses that suffer during construction stages for the scheme, assuming it is approved.

"Many businesses in Aberdeen, Glasgow and other areas are closing due in full or part to similar measures and in Edinburgh businesses suffered financially during the construction of the now notorious tram lines, while Highland Council is known to be short of cash," the spokesperson said.

They say there are also questions around funding for a possible trial of the scheme ahead of full implementation, an area they say has never been fully made clear.

"Councillors at a meeting discussed potentially running a trial of the plans but were advised that the council could not afford it – then at a recent meeting it was revealed funding may be available," the spokesperson said,

It has now been revealed how individual councillors on the city committee voted on the plans.

The 12-10 vote in favour would have seen the plans progressed but for an amendment being tabled that now means the plans will go to full council on Thursday of this week.

Individual business owners have also been speaking out on the plans ahead of their consideration at this week's full council meeting.

Nyomi Dixon of the Whisk Away café in Queensgate said: “The current Academy Street proposals are not the right plan for businesses in the city centre. We have not been thought about or properly consulted about these plans.

"We are all in agreement something needs to happen but this isn't it

"Businesses are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and then to add this on top of it all will just prevent people coming to the city.

"With many empty units there will be more in the coming years if these plans going through.

"I am already making back up plans for my own business outwith the city.”

And Ron Cruickshank, director of Associated Legal & Financial Ltd financial advisers in Academy Street said: “I cannot see any benefit with the proposal – it is ill thought out and will not reduce the traffic but will cause more congestion in other areas.

"If a delivery lorry is looking to load/unload they will block the flow of traffic in both directions which will then back up and be at a standstill, creating more emissions than if it is flowing.

"A similar issue will occur on Strothers Lane which exits onto Rose Street/Longman Road, which is the main trunk road A82 via the roundabout at Rose Street. This could be a problem for emergency vehicles.

"Working on Academy Street I see the problems first hand which need addressing but maybe common sense is needed rather than just considering the ‘financial gain’ from the funder as we need a practical and workable solution."

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