New social distancing barriers erected in Inverness city centre have been branded “madness” by a councillor who fears they may be dangerous to people with impaired sight.
Red and white barriers put in place months ago as part of the Spaces for People programme during the pandemic have been replaced by grey and black installations in Bridge Street and Castle Street.
But Councillor Andrew Jarvie said the change had been made with “utter disregard” for the impact on anyone with a visual impairment.
He said a previous project in Academy Street was halted because the contrast of the road and pavement was insufficient.
Mr Jarvie added: “But this is many steps backwards. The colour of these bollards is the exact same colour and shade as the road and white lines. That is before any consideration of the visibility at night.”
In a letter to Malcolm Macleod, Highland Council’s executive chief officer for infrastructure and development, Mr Jarvie also claimed the project is being rolled out “in secret” without councillors’ approval.
He said at the last Inverness City Committee, members voted for officers to develop design options for consideration at a future meeting.
He said: “Some visualisations were presented to us of what ‘could’ happen. However even those who agreed with this project commented on the black and white bollard design and raised concerns about the impact this could have – particularly on those with visual impairments.
“I didn’t agree with it, particularly as this council progresses something as vital as active travel in such a piecemeal fashion.
“But at least I left that meeting with the knowledge that this wouldn’t evolve further without member involvement and agreement.”
However, he said the new barriers were installed to his “utter horror”.
“I am at a total loss why this entire programme of works, which councillors are being asked to celebrate, has started and continues in such secrecy”, he added.
“I keep getting my updates on this programme from social media rather than this council. It is completely inexcusable for councillors to not even be aware such a large project is underway until it is done – again.
Mr Macleod said temporary measures will remain in place whilst physical distancing advice remains.
He said the changes recognise comments from the public and councillors and are compliant with safety guidelines.
“In terms of those with visual impairments, additional space has been provided for both pedestrians and cyclists. It is envisaged that users will continue to use the existing footway provision, except where required to make way for social distancing.”
He added: “This is not being done piecemeal, but will be part of a clearly thought out strategy, which will have full involvement from members and the public. All of the proposals will be fully debated at committee in an open and transparent way.
“Clearly permanent interventions will allow designs to consider all aspects and consultations with all groups will be essential to deliver designs that address all needs. Temporary interventions are inevitably a compromise – they are not perfect but are a proportionate reaction to the pandemic.”
The Spaces for People fund was launched last April to help implement measures to ensure people can walk, wheel or cycle, while physically distancing and remaining safe from traffic.
The Highlands was allocated £2 million under the scheme and councillors last year pressed for the temporary measures to go further.