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PICTURES: Nairn footbridge designs revealed which would link Lochloy and Balmakeith and allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross the Inverness-Aberdeen rail-line

By Donald Wilson

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Concept designs have been revealed for a new footbridge between a Nairn housing development and industrial estate and retail park.

Three options have been drawn up by Highland Council, but no firm price tags have been attached.

And while the link for pedestrians and cycles across the Inverness-Aberdeen rail-line – which connects Lochloy and Balmakeith – has been so far broadly welcomed, a community leader would be keen to see alternatives.

Hamish Bain, chairman of Nairn River Community Council, believes “all options” should be on the table including a “more ambitious” bridge which provides vehicle access to relieve the traffic congestion which has been clogging up through traffic in Nairn at the Lochloy/Merryton junction with the A96.

Highland Council has come under fire for allowing 1000 properties to be built at Lochloy over the past two decades without any vehicular access directly to the A96.

Instead traffic has to access the trunk road via Lochloy Road at traffic lights, creating a bottleneck.

Mr Bain said the community council will consider the views from residents before responding.

“If the crossing goes ahead as proposed here as an ‘active travel’ link, it will have to meet the needs of all the people who will want to use it,” he said.

“We are also seeing today, on social media, calls from local residents for a second road to link Lochloy estate across the railway with the A96 to the east of Nairn. Perhaps there is an opportunity to solve several problems at once here by considering a more ambitious ‘rail crossing’ which links Lochloy more directly to the A96 and retail park by car, via Balmakeith or further east, while also accommodating ‘active travel’ for walkers and cyclists, improving safe routes to schools, integrating properly with the coming A96 bypass.

“Since there is only one shot at getting this crossing right for Nairn and it will be largely funded [via developer contributions] by local people who have bought homes at Lochloy – we’d expect ‘all options’ to be on the table when public consultation takes place.”

He stressed that he welcomed more safe and accessible active travel routes in Nairn to reduce “car dependency”.

Sheena Baker, chairwoman of Nairn West Suburban Community Council, said: “There are complex issues to consider here, not just for those who will want to use the crossing, and those who live near it, but for wider infrastructure provision for East Nairn and Nairnshire.”

While the crossing is being welcomed by many on social media, residents near where the crossing would be have raised concerns about it overlooking properties.

Steven Grant, project engineer for Highland Council, said: “The route was identified in the Inner Moray Firth Local plan and recognised the need for a practical link for active travel to the retail park.

“There are a number of significant design issues to be overcome in providing such a facility, however the main obstacles are the bridging of the main line railway and the provision of compliant ramp facilities for cyclists, wheelchair users and people pushing prams etc.

“The project is funded by the Highland Council, via developer contributions, and Transport Scotland, via Sustrans and their Places for Everyone funding stream.

“A number of design considerations including an underpass and lifts were also considered, however ruled out in terms of ground conditions, utility clashes, maintenance and public safety/security.”

He added: “This consultation exercise is to consider three concept designs and the views of the public. The designs are presently at concept stage which means that they have been produced and meet the design criteria however are at a stage by where only design principles are set. The design appearance, finishes and exact dimensions/location may change to suit future comments, concerns and design issues.

“As with most projects of this type it will require planning consent and at that stage we will seek further consultation/comments on a more refined design.”

• The public can contact the community councils with their views at info.nrivercc@gmail.com and info@nwscc.com

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