A fresh vision to regenerate a key part of Inverness city centre has been presented to Highland Council.
The local authority unveiled a new masterplan to kickstart the heart of Inverness in November.
It called the plans “bold and ambitious” but one local man believed they were not quite hitting the mark.
In response, Mark Smyth drafted a proposal to transform the area around the city’s bus and train stations into a public park and square.
He posted his idea online and it created a flurry of interest.
As planners and councillors decide the next step to take, it has certainly offered the people of Inverness some food for thought.
‘A slice of continental culture in the heart of our city’
Under Mr Smyth’s proposal, he suggests that a new city square be created in the area currently occupied by the TK Maxx and Sports Direct buildings.
He proposes a fully enclosed square flanked by apartments, similar to those currently on Strothers Lane.
Underneath accommodation, he proposes local independent shops, bars, bistros and cafes to allow people to gather to shop, eat and relax.
“A slice of continental culture in the heart of our city,” Mr Smyth said.
“Why not have our cake and eat it?
“We deserve it.”
Potential for Inverness’s own Christmas market
The 59-year-old, who is originally from Dublin, has urged Highland Council not to replicate mistakes he feels were made by his hometown in losing a part of its culture and heritage.
Mr Smyth has said he feels that the creation of the square would also provide a place for Inverness to host its own high-quality Christmas market.
At present, the city has no real dedicated market for the festive period.
Mr Smyth feels his vision would make the Highland capital the “envy of Scotland” and would create “a lasting legacy for the people of Inverness”.
He said: “It’s ambitious, but achievable.
“It just needs a shift in the thinking of the town planners and council.
“The benefits are clear and obvious.”
Change of location for bus station
Under the proposal, the bus station would be relocated to the former Royal Mail sorting office, allowing for a city park to be created with the library taking centre stage.
Mr Smyth added: “Nobody will look back in years to come and admire our newly-expanded railway station, or be overjoyed at the sight of a dirty great bus station on the site, with vehicles prioritised over people.
“But they will look back and thank the heavens that someone had the vision to create this new pedestrianised area in the heart of our city, incorporating a new, vibrant city square and a new city park.
“The idea of a transport hub in that area is very 1960s to me. It prioritises vehicles ahead of people, which I believe we should be moving away from.
“We need something that would put Inverness firmly on the map and make it the envy of Scotland.”
Highland Council welcomes input
Highland Council has said it has received Mr Smyth’s plans and has encouraged others to actively engage with the process.
Malcolm MacLeod, executive chief officer for infrastructure and environment, said: “That is absolutely the purpose of the masterplan – to generate ideas and feedback.
“We would welcome comments on the role of all partners in shaping and delivering the masterplan, including individuals or community groups.
“We welcome all views and a formal consultation will begin in the New Year.”
MP encouraged by inspired designs
Local MP Drew Hendry has also sat down and discussed Mr Smyth’s plans.
Mr Hendry recently unveiled the one city, one vision plan for regeneration in Inverness by 2035.
It promises to deliver “a welcoming, successful, green, sustainable city at the heart of a thriving Highlands”.
Mr Hendry said: “It is great that Mark has brought forward these suggestions.
“There is a real buzz about getting the right vision for Inverness for the future just now.
“To have citizens of Inverness coming forward with their own ideas is exactly the kind of thing we want to inspire.
“It is clear that the vision document that the city steering group put out laid the groundwork for the type of city and the type of things that we need to look for, for the future.
“It has to be driven by the people that live here. I hope that more people are willing to input to say what they want to see.”
Last opportunity to create something ‘truly ambitious’
Mr Smyth initially shared his views on social media. It generated a big response.
So much so, only two of the 500 plus who interacted with his idea actively said they were against it.
He added: “What the council have done with the Town House is great. But there is a lot more to Inverness.
“Wouldn’t it be great to build something new and something that people would flock to on a daily basis?
“To me, it just makes utter sense and is a golden opportunity to create something truly magnificent for this city.”