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Scotland’s leading advocate for green travel backs Highland Council’s transport vision for Inverness

By Alasdair Fraser

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Lee Craigie.
Lee Craigie.

Lee Craigie, the active travel commissioner for Scotland, has praised Highland Council’s swift response to a Scottish Government offer of funding for temporary walking and cycling routes.

It is understood Highland Council was the first of the 32 local authorities to table a detailed bid for a share of the £10 million Spaces for People cash.

The move could be transformational in providing the template for a permanent solution to city centre pollution and traffic congestion. During lockdown, there has been an estimated 60 per cent drop in toxic fumes in Academy Street.

Academy Street could be closed to evening traffic under the plans.
Academy Street could be closed to evening traffic under the plans.

Ms Craigie (41), who lives in Kirkhill and Edinburgh, is a former British champion mountain biker who represented Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

She also founded Cycletherapy, a project delivering bicycle training to marginalised young people in Inverness.

In 2018, she became the main independent national proponent for active travel, reporting to cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity, Michael Matheson.

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Highland Council is one of three Scottish local authorities to grab this opportunity and go for it – it was first off the mark.

“Everyone can look at Edinburgh and Glasgow’s success in active travel and say, yes, but Inverness is different. It is rural, with complicated needs.

“But at its core, it is the same. It is about people needing space to move and be active, safely.

“Academy Street, being one of the most polluted in Scotland, speaks volumes about this idea the Highlands is immune to it.

“It’s not – and there is real opportunity in a city as small as Inverness to be bold and make a massive difference.”

Ms Craigie believes plans for radical change in local travel must carry the support of residents as well as businesses, plus officials tasked with responsibilities over city planning, transport, health and education.

Active travel has grown in popularity during lockdown.
Picture: Callum Mackay
Active travel has grown in popularity during lockdown. Picture: Callum Mackay

She said: “We need to encourage people to think about the sort of place they want to live in.

“Do they want these places full of fuel emissions and gridlocked cars? Or do they consider that life could be a little bit different?

“Everybody needs to be on board. It can’t just be one person pushing an agenda.

“On the back of a horrible, global crisis, we have an opportunity for everyone to think about how we travel in our communities.”

Ms Craigie dismissed scaremongering about the potential adverse economic impact of traffic reduction in the city, adding: “Inverness is a bit more challenged than bigger town centres because we have lots of people from outlying areas who do tend to drive into Inverness.

“If I had my way, there would be an excellent rural bus service, but that’s not the reality at the moment so we have to work with what we’ve got.

“I know a big part of the transformation plan is park and ride on the city outskirts. People can drive to these points and then have a pleasant time walking around, doing their shopping or socialising.

“You have concern from businesses that we need drivers parking right next to our shops.

“But that’s not how it works in Copenhagen, Amsterdam and many other European cities.

“It has been shown that pedestrianisation and a pleasant shopping environment draws more people in.”

Highland Cycle Campaign convenor, John Davidson, has also given the proposals within the bid document measured approval ahead of public consultation.

Mr Davidson said: “The plans go into a lot of detail and we broadly welcome the approach. We appreciate the hard work and speed at which it has been brought together.

“It looks like there are some really positive interventions to improve matters for walkers and cyclists.”

Mr Davidson hopes the temporary measures will lead to permanent city centre solutions, adding: “Some of these things are what we’ve really been pushing for for a long time in normal life.

“We would hope once people see them in place, other people who are not necessarily cyclists, or weren’t cyclists before this, will start to see the potential benefits.”

Related articles: Have your say on Inverness roads revolution

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