Highland Council has been accused of fraud over a controversial decision to restrict cars using Academy Street.
Councillors voted narrowly on Thursday to support the proposal despite opposition from local businesses.
A legal challenge is now likely from firms who say they were not consulted on the plan to limit access to deliveries, taxis, public transport and blue badge holders.
This is aimed at minimising traffic passing through the city centre.
The council says there will be further consultation with businesses. They added only passing traffic – not shoppers, residents or visitors – will be stopped.
Who is planning legal action?
Scott Murray, managing director of Cru Holdings which owns premises including Bar One, The Keg and the Whitehouse, and Gavin Stevenson, director of the Mor-Rioghain Group which owns the Gellions, have sought counsel advice.
Other city interests are expected to join them in mounting a legal challenge to the decision.
The option to restrict through traffic was revealed on Monday in council papers.
It is the preferred choice of planners and was backed by councillors on the Inverness city committee on Thursday.
But it is claimed the option was not included in a public consultation on the future of Academy Street.
Mr Murray said: “If the decision was made and evidence presented to the councillors was fair and objective then I would have to go along with that.
“But the option that was voted on was not presented at the consultation. It was not presented until the paper came out on Monday.
“There was a consultation which presented two options. During that consultation it was always maintained that two-way traffic would remain on Academy Street.
“They cannot possibly have consulted fully on (the restricting traffic) option.
“This is where I think the whole system falls down. It’s corrupt and it’s a fraud.”
He added: “People who are trusted to make decisions on behalf of the people of the city of Inverness and the Highlands are making those decisions without consulting on them properly and to follow their own personal agendas.
“I don’t think that is acceptable.”
Council ‘has a case to answer’
Mr Murray said having taken legal advice the initial feeling is that the council has a case to answer.
“On the face of it, it looks like it’s been done illegally.
“If that’s the case, then we want to make sure that whoever is responsible for acting in that way is held to account.
“If I was to mislead the council on my business rates returns I would be prosecuted. I would be fined heavily and could go to jail for that, and quite rightly so.
“So if someone who has the trust of the public behaves in that way then they should be treated exactly the same way.
“If it turns out to be the case, then they don’t deserve a post in public office.”
Academy Street is said to be one of the most polluted roads in Inverness. Around 8,500-9,500 cars, vans, lorries and buses use it every day.
But analysis shows 50% of the vehicles are using it as a through route – rising to 75% in the morning rush hour.
The council argues Academy Street would not be eligible for the funding needed to improve it unless cycle routes or traffic reduction measures are identified.
Mr Murray said he is not against pedestrianising the city centre. But he said business concerns are not being considered.
“Why are the council, rather than trying to help local businesses survive and thrive in the city centre, maintain local employment and local spent, going after these pet greenwashing projects?”
Not a ban, but restriction on through traffic
A council spokesman said the committee had a choice to make widened pavements permanent and keep traffic as it is while finding a new cycle route, or widen pavements and restrict traffic access.
“The committee felt strongly that the latter option should be progressed and further engagement and consultation undertaken particularly with the business sector.”
He said a public consultation on restricting traffic using Academy Street will follow next year.
Inverness and area leader councillor Ian Brown said the item would not have been on the agenda if there had been legal concerns.
He said: “We are not banning private cars (in Academy Street). We are restricting through traffic that just uses it as a shortcut through the city centre.
“Everyone who shops in the city just now, lives in the city and wants to visit the city is welcome and there is plenty parking for them.
“We are not stopping anyone accessing the city centre, we are encouraging people. We want it to be a more pleasant journey for them.
“If the traffic that goes through is no longer there, the streets will be quieter.”
He added: “It’s the same design that people were consulted on. The only change is through traffic who are not spending a penny in the city centre.
“So customers won’t be affected. The city centre isn’t going to be empty.”
He added: “We are still consulting. There is nothing going to happen tomorrow.”
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