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Keeping the Focus on the Vision: How to bring people back to the city centre not just to shop but to live? Highland Council hopes to entice them with a seriously ramped up food and drink and offering a lot more housing and culture

By Scott Maclennan

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The Gathering Festival took place at the Northern Meeting Park.
The Gathering Festival took place at the Northern Meeting Park.

How to bring people back to city centres amid a serious decline in retail is one of the major issues facing not just the private but the public sector too.

Highland Council’s Inverness Strategy includes a plan to do just that through six ideas that have been identified to develop a vibrant residential, commercial and cultural centre at the heart of Inverness.

The first proposal is to simply increase the number of people who live in the city centre across all age groups through a wide range of tenures – something that could boost trade both for the day and night-time economies.

Establishing private for sale, affordable, social housing, elderly supported or sheltered, and student accommodation is viewed as potentially making the area “attractive to people from all walks of life”.

The strategy states: “A new influx of residents will encourage existing and new businesses and help in positioning Inverness as a safe place to visit and spend time, both by day and in the evening, due to the general activity and passive surveillance that the new community will bring, supporting an improved F&B [food and beverage] and leisure offer.”

The next idea is to make better use of ground-floor premises on key streets through the introduction of the right type of retail, public services and alternative uses – in other words, not just shops.

Key to that is active alternative uses to retail, rather than relying on retail and that involves healthcare, leisure, daycare, commercial and ‘maker’ spaces that historically were located in the city.

Third, an over reliance on retail to populate city centre business premises led to “empty and unwelcoming environments once the shops are closed” and increasing the food and beverage offerings is a potential solution.

The strategy states: “A good evening economy encourages footfall, increases passive surveillance and greatly improves the local economy. It may require a proactive approach to historical use, class and licensing restrictions to bring these areas to life.”

The strategy also seeks to improve existing and create new cultural outlets. As has been seen in Dundee, the “introduction of new cultural uses can have a transformative effect” so the plan is to explore working with existing institutions and community groups to bring new galleries, performance spaces and museums. And vital for that is to provide new performance venues for music and comedy to strengthen the evening economy and tourism offer.

The final proposal is to create a place where “community truly occurs” by creating places to hold events that attract local residents and those from further afield, which is seen as key to re-energising the city.

The strategy states: “These external ‘rooms’ will support a wide series of events in terms of both their scale and flexibility and will encourage a vibrant all year round calendar that takes advantage of seasonal holidays, local historical events and more.”

For more on the Inverness Strategy click here

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