Highland councillors agreed that Inverness Dalcross airport is to get its own multi-million twin platform rail link – but the decision came with only a muted fanfare.
Concern over the removal of the level crossing at Petty took up a great deal of councillor energy in debate over the issue.
Network Rail upgraded plans for a single platform station to a double last year in a venture transport chiefs say will result in a reduction in road travel to the airport, promoting greener travel choices whilst increasing capacity on the Inverness to Aberdeen line.
Pre-pandemic, passengers passed through Inverness Airport each year travelling to and from places like Amsterdam, Ireland, London and Majorca.
Network Rail boss Alex Hynes said the new station would help open up opportunities for new passengers, and satisfy demand by the local community.
The new Dalcross station would have two platforms accommodating six-carriage trains.
There will be a footbridge with lifts on each side, and parking space for 64 cars and a bus drop-off zone.
But there is one casualty of the project which has concerned Ardersier and Petty community council.
They have raised concerns about the closure of Petty level crossing, an integral part of the plans, fearing the impact the closure will have on nearby residents and farmers.
Network Rail says the Petty level crossing needs to be closed completely for performance and safety reasons linked with the operation of the new station, and the Woodend crossing, closer to the new station, will be kept as it is deemed safer in terms of train speeds.
It’s like something from the Fifties, we should be well beyond it.”
Councillor Ben Thompson
Plans now include a new footbridge instead, some 100 yards away from the crossing site, a move designed to avoid impact on nearby private drainage systems, and also designed to impact on the least amount of trees.
Councillor Ben Thompson said the proposals for the bridge, which include a trough for cycles, were far from accessible and ‘surely below current design standards.’
He said: “It’s like something from the Fifties, we should be well beyond it.
“I’m really frustrated that that type of bridge is still being built. It should be a graded ramp, costing a small amount of money in the scheme of things, and it would significantly increase the chances of people using the bridge.”
Committee chairman Jimmy Gray said he was disappointed by the bridge, the problem being a longer gradient would impact more on the houses nearby.
“There are a number of factors coming together here and some of the outcomes are less than satisfactory.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are working hard to deliver this new station which will help further improve transport links into Inverness and for the airport.”
Local member Roddy Balfour said cutting off the Petty crossing was closing part of the local farms and businesses heritage and way of life.
“It’s a human rights issue, people are disregarded as being expendable.”
Mr Balfour pushed for a site visit for members to understand the local impact better, but officers told him this was still not permissible under the current restrictions.
Trish Robertson, local member, said: “Petty crossing closure has caused some concerns many if which have been addressed.
“It will be inconvenient for some residents.”
Despite their reservations, the councillors approved the application unanimously.