Inverness MP Drew Hendry urges action to tackle toxic Academy Street
HIGHLAND Council must be bolder and more ambitious in devising one grand vision for the future of Inverness city centre after shock pollution findings.
That is the view of Inverness MP Drew Hendry who described last month’s damning Friends of the Earth study – labelling Academy Street as Scotland’s fourth dirtiest – as a wake-up call for the local authority.
He urged the council to quickly develop a cohesive green plan encapsulating every big city centre development in the pipeline.
These include Academy Street remodelling, Victorian Market improvements, bus and train station redevelopment, the re-designing of Rose Street with a major new hotel, creation of an active transport hub, and city park and ride schemes.
The SNP MP wants moves to reduce traffic congestion and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution to be at the heart of plans.
He insists creating an attractive gateway to the Highlands for visitors arriving by train and bus holds great economic potential.
The call came as a new study by the UK charity Centre for Cities linked more than one in 19 urban deaths to air pollution. Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital also released findings suggesting childhood exposure to air pollution damages brain development, with links to degenerative illnesses and brain tumours.
Mr Hendry said: “This is a timely reminder that Academy Street has been both a problem and untapped opportunity for many years.
“There has been a lot of talk over decades about making the most of Inverness. With the opening up of the castle as a tourist attraction, we’re going to draw more focus. It is a signal to be bolder in making our city centre healthier and more attractive. Petrol and diesel cars will have to make way for people on public transport, bike and foot. We should be making the change now.
“Plans for Academy Street need to be more ambitious. There’s been some great work done by council officers, but the issue is getting the political will among the council’s leadership to push ahead with this.
“A sense of urgency has been missing in recent years. This is a wake-up call.”
Mr Hendry rates parts of the city centre environment as poor for workers, shoppers and tourists.
He said: “The ability to arrive in, and be impressed by, this gateway into our city is vitally important.
“Academy Street is so strategically important in making sure Inverness is seen as a 21st century city with natural and built-in beauty.
“We need to take action on streets that are becoming unhealthy for our citizens to walk up and down. Queensgate and Academy Street are clearly quite dirty and dangerous with the volume of traffic.
“If we are to support businesses, it must be a space where people want to spend time. Inverness has been seen as a crossroads, but needs to step up to the mark as a destination in its own right.”
The Scottish Government’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) fund is providing £10 million to help Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh reduce air pollution.
Mr Hendry believes Highland Council should be making a powerful case for inclusion.
He said: “I’ve advocated for over 10 years now that Highland Council needs to have projects that are off-the-shelf ready, to take advantage of funding opportunities.
“There is no good reason why it shouldn’t get a bigger bite of the pie, but we are too reactive in many cases.”
HiTrans, the regional transport strategy body, supports a bid for LEZ funding. Partnership director Ranald Robertson said: “We have worked with Highland Council to develop plans for reducing unnecessary traffic on Academy Street.
“We know that funding is currently being sourced to advance towards detailed designs. It is disappointing that Inverness is not included as one of the cities benefiting from funding for LEZ.”