An investment bonanza agreed yesterday has promised to create hundreds of north jobs and deliver a massive boost to the economy.
Councillors gave their blessing for a trio of long-awaited projects – a new rail station at Inverness Airport, a £23million justice centre and radical restaurant expansion in the city centre.
Business and community leaders were last night celebrating confirmation of the multimillion-pound package amid hopes it would kick-start previously delayed schemes.
It was hailed a highly “significant day” for area, that would “benefit the whole of the north”, including Moray.
Highland councillors were united in approving the various plans, but not without a lengthy and passionate debate.
There were lingering concerns about a lack of public parking at the justice complex, about flood-risk at the site of the rail halt and expected closure of a nearby level crossing that could inconvenience a local community.
The applications were, nevertheless, agreed unanimously.
The economic spin-offs from the approvals reassured council chiefs and money experts who have been openly fearful of the effects of Brexit on the local economy.
The new rail station will begin with a single platform, parking for 150 cars, an airport shuttle service and a park-and-ride facility.
A complication sparking an angry exchange at the area planning committee in Inverness was a stipulation focussing on the possible permanent closure in future of the nearby Petty level crossing between the rail station site and the A96 Inverness-Aberdeen route – a prospect that infuriates local residents.
Another niggle still to be fully addressed is the absence of public parking spaces at the proposed justice centre to be built on the Longman industrial estate.
Several city councillors pressed the point, securing a planning condition that the issue would be further pursued with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
The third big decision gave the go-ahead for the Filling Station restaurant on the edge of the city’s Falcon Square to expand onto the concourse.
The revised design work for the scheme was applauded.
Celebrating the economic bounty, council leader Margaret Davidson said: “This is a significant day. It’s fantastic to see this investment in the Highlands.
“An integrated justice centre means everything in the right place – and frees up the castle.
“This will benefit the whole of the north.
“We’ve all got to cope with what the economy is throwing at us, not least the impact of Brexit. The important thing is to keep the confidence level up, keep the investment up and create quality jobs.”
Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay said: “I have serious worries over the impact of the Brexit vote on the local economy. These projects will help alleviate some of those problems.”
Local SNP MSP Drew Hendry said: “We must always show ambition for our city and I’m delighted these projects have the go-ahead.
“They will not only play a part in building the kind of city we want to live in but also make Inverness a more attractive place to visit – none more so than the re-siting of the justice centre which finally enables us to open Inverness Castle up to the public.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Ed Mountain believes the hat-trick of projects offers “a real chance to allow Inverness to grow and thrive”.
He added: “A railway station for the airport is long overdue and vital if we’re to see the real growth in tourism that the Highlands and Moray need.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “Each development is significant. Their approval gives a real sense of the scale of opportunity afforded to Inverness.
“This will reward the Highland-wide – and Moray – economy.”
Welcoming the rail station’s approval, Frank Roach, of the regions’ transport agency Hitrans said: “This exciting project is a key component in the masterplan to see the Highlands grow to the east of Inverness, providing a boost for airport users, the growing local community and the general travelling public.”
Highland airports chief executive Inglis Lyon said: “A new dedicated rail access puts us on a par with many of the other key airports across Europe,” he said.
Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise is investing £150,000 in the rail station.
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: “The justice centre is an exciting development with its unique vision to bring together justice organisations to improve the delivery of justice within a purpose-built, fully integrated facility.
“It’ll deliver a wide range of services and problem-solving approaches to help reduce reoffending and offer specialist facilities, support and advice for victims and witnesses of domestic abuse, sexual violence and child abuse.”
Construction work on the legal complex is expected to start in the autumn and be completed in summer, 2019.