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DAVID SUTHERLAND: Our city needs hotel growth if it is to achieve its potential

By David Sutherland

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IT’S great to see Inverness expanding its reputation as a concert venue and I hope more big names follow.

The scramble for accommodation showed that the city’s hotel sector is fully stretched when events coincide with the tourist season.

Our city needs further hotel growth if it is to achieve its visitor potential and make the fullest contribution possible to the Highland economy and employment.

That’s why I was disappointed to see the reaction of some councillors at the first planning committee of the new council. I appreciate that there’s 35 new councillors so many won’t know the ropes but the casual off-the-cuff criticism of the application for a new hotel in Academy Street was surprising.

I’ve no financial interest in the project and have never met or spoken to anyone from the applicants, but I paid attention to a £30 million inward investment proposal for Inverness and watched it online.

The council’s own architects and planning officials, plus the design review panel, all recommended approval, yet some councillors felt they themselves knew more about design!

They were entitled to vote whichever way they wished – but casual disregard of their own experts’ evidence is a bad sign for future applications, when Inverness needs all the post-pandemic investment it can attract.

Not every building needs to look historic – like other city centres, there needs to be scope for contemporary design to show that Inverness has a progressive approach.

We don’t want to run the risk of other towns and cities snapping up projects diverted from Inverness due to a tendency for councillors to ditch their own planners’ recommendations.

The previous planning committee defied their own experts to reject the £600 million hydro storage renewable energy project above Dores – only for the Scottish Government inquiry to overturn the decision.

The expense of losing that inquiry cost council taxpayers a pretty penny – and that’s a trend we don’t want to continue.

The city and surrounding area is currently enjoying excellent tourism business – helped by the UK market turning north rather than face the horror queues and cancellations at airports.

But local retail, accommodation and hospitality sectors are battling with cost increases on wages, goods and services. I’m hearing stories of restaurants being busy, but finding customers are more careful on their spending. The second bottle of wine, for instance, is being ordered less frequently.

We’re caught in a spiral with the rail strikes the start and nurses, doctors, teachers and public sector workers set to follow. Even our police are now seeking to restrict their availability out-of-hours.

With inflation heading to 11 per cent, this is all very understandable – but how can it all be afforded? There needs to be higher settlements, without the double figures all round which would only spark higher inflation, hurting everyone.

We’re entering the finishing straight on the selection of two Scottish ‘green ports’ by the UK and Scottish governments. I hope the Opportunity Inverness and Cromarty Firth one gets the nod as it has the potential to create significant new jobs with tax incentives and lower tariffs.

Nigg will be the focal point but Inverness firms stand to benefit significantly so we should all support the Highlands’ only entry.

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