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Safety concerns threaten Inverness hospital bus link

By Val Sweeney

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A new link would take buses off the regularly busy Old Perth Road, but NHS Highland has raised concerns.
A new link would take buses off the regularly busy Old Perth Road, but NHS Highland has raised concerns.

Long-standing plans to improve bus services on the eastern side of Inverness by creating a special link through the grounds of Raigmore Hospital could be scrapped amid a bitter wrangle over safety concerns.

The creation of a “bus gate” allowing buses to run from Raigmore estate and through the hospital site was a condition of Inverness Campus securing planning permission.

NHS Highland is now asking Highland Council to remove the condition – nine years after it was first agreed – citing safety concerns about buses passing too close to the helicopter pad.

There has also been a warning that the hospital could lose the search and rescue services coming into the grounds.

But bus company Stagecoach has lodged an objection to it being waived and has issued a hard-hitting rebuke, warning that some outlying communities could lose bus services at the hands of the NHS when it should be protecting greener travel.

The council’s transport planning team is also objecting, saying that the planned new Centre for Health Science 2 at the campus – which will include an elective care centre – will generate even more traffic in the area. This gained planning consent in February last year with the condition stating that no part of the development shall be occupied until the bus link has been constructed and made available.

The condition originally set out by the council required a new bus gateway in Churchill Road/Ashton Road to connect the city centre and east Inverness avoiding the congested section of Old Perth Road.

But NHS Highland says the site is severely constrained by the helipad which is essential for bringing patients requiring urgent care.

In a statement submitted on its behalf, it reads: “The situation is very complicated owing to the interaction between helicopters and the general public on a site which is not a controlled airfield but rather, a fully working hospital.

“Members of the public are able to walk, cycle or drive around the edge of the hospital helicopter landing site, park in close proximity and access adjacent buildings.

“This has caused safety issues in the past and continues to present a significant risk, particularly where unsecured objects are concerned.

“In a recent incident, an empty child’s pushchair was blown across the site when the parent stopped to take a picture of the incoming helicopter.”

A supporting statement from Bristow Helicopters, which operates the search and rescue services, states the helipad is already in danger of not meeting current standards and if safe operation of the site cannot be assured, it may cease flights.

It raises various issues including delaying buses to allow for landing and take-off, the need for a downwash protection zone and the dignity of patients being transferred as bus passengers watch.

But Stagecoach argues that there are no public transport priorities at the hospital, resulting in delayed services.

“This is particularly bad in the evening peak but is now spreading throughout the day,” it states.

“In the past, we have had to add additional resources which we can no longer afford.

“Without the bus gate, services will continue to deteriorate and in all likelihood be reduced.

“If some of the outlying communities lost this service owing to the opposition to the many benefits a bus gate will offer in speeding up services and maintaining links, then it would be very disappointing that this would be at the hands of the NHS who should be protecting greener travel rather than private transport.”

It says statements by NHS Highland indicate the bus gate is feasible and issues can be solved by traffic signalling away from the helipad.

“Car parks are overflowing and in many instances you see cars circling the car park looking for a space,” Stagecoach maintains. “Making public transport more reliable would benefit visitors to the hospital greatly and encourage people out of their cars.”

Highland Council’s transport planning team also believes there is a feasible technical solution and is seeking to work closely with NHS Highland to share expertise to help design it and seek external funding.

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