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YOUR VIEWS: Scheme for Academy Street in Inverness 'needs more thought'

By Gregor White

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Proposals to reduce traffic on Academy Street are continuing to provoke comment.
Proposals to reduce traffic on Academy Street are continuing to provoke comment.

Readers respond to the continuing controversy over Highland Council plans for Academy Street.

Scheme needs more thought

This (Academy Street) is a poorly conceived scheme narrowly focused on unsubstantiated claims of highway improvements.

Pushing ahead with it without getting the local community, including local businesses, on board will poison the well and set back by many years the cause of improving the environment of and accessibility into and around the town centre.

The present proposals will make the environment in and around the town centre worse in three ways.

A mixture of buses, commercial vehicles, cycles and pedestrians will continue to share use of the street. Although numbers may be reduced vehicle movements will be more complex from manoeuvring and crossing traffic than at present. For example the loop proposed round Union Street, Church Street and Queensgate to get back to the station forecourt.

Controlling this additional complexity will require many more signs, light signals and road markings – including a wide pink stripe for what will in practice be an obstacle-strewn “cycleway”. This will add greatly to visually unattractive and confusing street clutter for pedestrians, especially the disabled and elderly.

None of this clutter shows up in the illustrative materials.

There may be some overall reduction in cut-through traffic going straight down Academy Street. However, there will be an increase in traffic going down Union Street and Church Street servicing business premises in the area and, as noted above, getting back to the station forecourt.

Church Street has the largest number of historic premises (with tourist-attracting potential!) in the town centre and it seems perverse to funnel extra traffic that way.

Similarly, much traffic will be diverted across Crown and down Castle Street adding to the stream of short-cut traffic, which already spoils the setting of the town house, the Tollbooth and (in due course) the castle and crams pedestrians on to inadequate footways.

It seems highly unlikely that any workable reduction in Academy Street vehicle numbers can be achieved without either the above serious knock-on effects or a realistic alternative strategy. The latter is likely to need a drastic improvement in the local public transport system and building (at last) the flyover between Milburn Road and Rose Street. This was first proposed (and agreed?) back in the 1997 Strategy for the Town Centre and I understand that full working drawings are gathering dust in a drawer in the Highways Department. However, repeated priority since then has been given to roads for our new housing estates, many of them now without decent public transport or cycle links and needing catch-up active travel schemes.

From the information available it doesn’t seem that any analysis has been made of delivery needs between premises in the town centre and how they would cope with the changes.

It doesn’t look like any detailed origin and destination surveys coupled with driver interviews have been carried out to establish the reasons for short-cutting and what other options there might be to tackle the issue. It also seems that no assessment has been made of the needs of the rising tide of tourism-related pedestrians in the town centre and what are the priorities to manage this. In that context dealing with Castle Street, Bridge Street and the bridge itself are probably much higher priorities than Academy Street.

Academy Street has of course a central (potentially greater) role in the town centre as an entertainment and retail/services hub and as an upper-storey residential street, not just as a road linking different parts of the town and the town centre together.

The context for this role should be provided by a Strategy for Inverness Town Centre. The most recent has not yet been consulted upon let alone agreed and consultation may commence in Autumn 2023.

The Sustrans funding requirement for the Academy Street proposals is for a scheme which will last for at least 15 years. Deciding now on the future of Academy Street for the next 15 years would effectively hamstring any realistic discussions about strategic alternatives across the whole town centre.

The consultation process itself hasn’t ventured beyond the physical details. On these the council highway officers at the public sessions were very helpful. Though, even at the detailed level surprisingly little thought seems to have been given to long-term relationships with, for example, the strategies of Stagecoach or Network Rail. And nothing at all about the wider social and economic context.

Inverness prides and advertises itself as the capital of the Highlands. Academy Street is the main artery of that “capital”. It is perhaps surprising that consultation has been restricted to councillors and interest groups (including BID and the Crown Community Council) within Inverness itself. Very little to the wider Highlands.

I note that another Sustrans requirement is full buy-in from local community interests. From feedback I have seen from many quarters that certainly hasn’t been achieved.

Chris Lewcock

BA (Hons) Urban and Regional Planning. Dip Dev Studs, M Phil (Land Economy)

An artist's impression of Inglis Street with new wider pavements.
An artist's impression of Inglis Street with new wider pavements.

‘Remove street barriers’

Inverness Business Improvement District organised a meeting last week bringing together city centre firms with councillors and officials to discuss the plans for Academy Street.

“I commute to Inverness daily for work and am at a loss as to why Highland Council continues to penalise locals for the good of tourism. Buses struggle to turn out of junctions because of the barriers erected for Covid. Those barriers need to be removed enabling people and traffic to flow better. Concentrate on filling empty shops and spaces rather than ruining the businesses we already have as they will struggle to receive deliveries. We already have one High Street which is largely pedestrianised. We don’t need Academy Street to be the same.” – Halinka Rands, Drumnadrochit

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