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Inverness set for road and rail revolution

By Louise Glen

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Frank Roach of HiTrans in Strothers Lane car park which has been bought by Network Rail, along with the TK Maxx building. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Frank Roach of HiTrans in Strothers Lane car park which has been bought by Network Rail, along with the TK Maxx building. Picture: Gary Anthony.

A GAME-CHANGING multimillion-pound transport hub which will revolutionise Inverness city centre is a giant step closer to being built.

The Courier can exclusively reveal that Network Rail has now completed its purchase of several key sites to pave the way for the development.

The Platform for Change project, promoted by HITRANS (Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership) and funded by various partners, will transform the city centre.

The sites bought with cash from Transport Scotland include the Royal Mail sorting office and car park, the TK Maxx and Sports Direct buildings, Strothers Lane car park and Highland Rail House, on the north side of Station Square.

It means that one of the biggest developments in the history of the Highland capital can now get under way. The project will vastly modernise the train station, bus station and entrance to the city.

A group of stakeholders including HITRANS, Network Rail, Transport Scotland, Highland Council and organisations such as Inverness Business Improvement District (BID) and the city’s chamber of commerce will discuss the finer details of the plan for an area of land bounded by Rose Street, Academy Street, Station Lane, and the railway estate bounded by Millburn Road, Harbour Road and Longman Road.

While a deadline for completion is not being discussed, the transport interchange will address many of the city centre’s problems such as high-emissions and poor passenger capacity.

Frank Roach, HITRANS partnership manager, said: “This investment by Transport Scotland will enable long-held aspirations to improve facilities to be realised.

“In the future there may be something much more majestic than the 1960s development we have at the moment.

“Following the example of the Waverley train station master planning exercise, it is envisaged that a steering group comprising Network Rail, Transport Scotland, HiTrans and Highland Council be set up to ensure a balance of interests and to consider the formation of a working group and an associated stakeholder consultation exercise.

“The formation of the steering group will get under way after the current crisis is over, but it is most definitely on the cards.

“These things take time, but the Platform for Change project will have a huge effect on the regeneration of the city centre, and minds are focused on getting it delivered.”

Due to the impact of Covid-19, Mr Roach, who has been working on this project since 2014, said the city would be at the forefront of safe, modern travel that could no longer “force people” into sharing tight spaces when either queueing for or being on public transport.

He continued: “Whatever is planned, it will be spacious and is very likely to include a retail offer and bars and cafés.”

The emphasis will be on moving people onto public transport, and will include electric/non-diesel trains, electric and hydrogen buses, electric taxis with induction charging, pedestrian and cycling including e-bike facilities, fuelling for hydrogen vehicles, freight interchange, last mile electric cart delivery and rail maintenance facilities.

Mr Roach added: “Personal car parking should be limited.

“Instead of people using the city centre for eight hours a day in the future, we think that things will be different in the city and it will be used 24 hours a day.

“Who knows what city centres will be like after Covid-19? But what we do know is that transport interchanges can no longer push people into small areas at the same time. Even after this pandemic is over, what we have learned is that people in the future will need space to move around.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Inverness Transport Hub is an exciting project that has the potential to have a transformative impact on travel in the city.

“We are seeking to establish a steering group for the project, but this work is currently on hold as we focus our efforts on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We look forward to getting back to work with key stakeholders, including Highland Council and HiTrans, at the earliest opportunity.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We have acquired additional land around the station area and are examining long-term options for its use.”

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