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Inverness traders say creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians could harm businesses

By Val Sweeney

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New barriers have been placed in Academy Street to widen the pavement and help with social distancing.
New barriers have been placed in Academy Street to widen the pavement and help with social distancing.

Angry business owners claim the creation of more space for cyclists and pedestrians in Inverness city centre could be the final nail in the coffin for businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis.

Highland Council is proposing various traffic measures to make it easier and safer for people to access shops, workplaces and other services while maintaining physical distancing, having been awarded £752,954 from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund.

But plans for a one-way traffic system around Inverness Castle – which could come in by July 13 – have provoked a strong reaction from Castle Street businesses who fear it could deter customers.

Bus operator Stagecoach also said its passengers would face disruption and highlighted issues in Academy Street where temporary bollards prohibit larger vehicles from turning.

David Traill, owner of angling and shooting equipment store J Graham, claimed the Castle Street proposal was a “preposterous waste of money” for a problem which did not exist.

“It is absolutely ridiculous to further diminish footfall and discourage people coming into the centre for businesses like ourselves which have struggled,” he said.

“If Highland Council wants to see the death of the High Street, they are going the right way about it.”

He maintained Highlanders needed their vehicles for shopping.

“This is not Amsterdam,” he said. “This is not some flat utopia where we can cycle around whistling and carrying shopping in our baskets.”

Norman MacDonald, co-owner of Café One, said his restaurant had introduced a ‘pots-to-go’ service and it was vital customers could park to pick up the orders.

“We need absolutely everything going our way – not just my business but others such as hairdressers, galleries, arts and crafts shops,” he said.

Craig Duncan, franchise owner of the city centre branch of McDonald’s, said pedestrianisation made sense in cities with big wide thoroughfares.

“We have narrow, medieval streets which make it harder for customers to access businesses,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Stagecoach Highlands said after discussions with the council, it had compromised on a one-way system around Castle Street.

“We are disappointed in the lack of public consultation during this project as we have had to break important service links throughout the city,” she said.

But John Davidson, convener of Highland Cycle Campaign, said space for distancing was going to be essential for Inverness to get back to business safely and responsibly.

“We want to see the city centre and its businesses prosper as we emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown, but we can do that with a different approach that makes it a more attractive and pleasant place to spend time – and money,” he said.

“More people have turned to walking and cycling since lockdown began in March – despite this not being Amsterdam – and there is a real desire for that to continue into the ‘new normal’.”

A council spokesman said the measures include provision for physical distancing and give people choices.

“We have seen a reduction in traffic and an increase in active travel during the pandemic which we want to encourage and build upon,” he said.

Following recommendations by the Inverness Business Improvement District and Stagecoach, a change to a clockwise one-way system around the castle were made.

“We feel the measures we are proposing are proportionate to the issues being faced while also having cognisance of the views and concerns expressed,” he said, adding 2400 people have signed a petition urging the council to go further than the current proposals.

“It should be stressed that these interventions are temporary and we have the ability to rapidly amend and change the proposals up to and including their removal.”

A bid for for more Spaces for People funding has been made for further changes across the region.

Councillors will have a chance to discuss the scheme at an economy and infrastructure committee meeting tomorrow.

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