Midges are notoriously severe in the north of Scotland, but they aren’t the only six-legged beasts that get under the skin of people in Inverness.
With its wacky road markings, six exits and the fact that 13,000 people work on its doorstep, the Inshes roundabout is one of the city’s best known.
A byword for bottlenecks, it has been looming large on Highland Council’s to-do list for some time now.
The good news is that after years of complaints, we’re about to come to the end of a public consultation looking at how to fix it.
But if you’re expecting planners to wave a magic wand, don’t hold your breath.
The options on the table for the Inshes roundabout
Council officials have narrowed the options down to two, largely similar choices.
In both cases, six exits will be reduced to four and traffic lights will be introduced to the roundabout.
Separate junctions will be created to get people into Inshes Retail Park and the Drakies estate.
The only major difference between the two choices is whether or not there should be a priority bus lane in the area.
What happens next?
Once the results of the public consultation come back, the city of Inverness area committee will discuss the findings and decide on a solution.
All going well, construction will begin in 2023.
But will either of these options actually fix the problems?
Probably not. Without one of those magic money trees Theresa May used to bang on about, the council’s just got to make the best of it.
Gary Smith, Highland Council’s principal engineer, told the Inverness city committee in May: “The work that we are doing at Inshes roundabout will not solve congestion in Inverness or congestion through Inshes roundabout.
“Inshes roundabout will continue to be busy as long as people continue to use cars.
“What the work will do is make journey time and journey reliability much better and it will control the flow of traffic much better through the Inshes junction.
Petition to permanently delete inshes roundabout
— Caitlin (@Caitlinfmac) October 30, 2019
“That is the aim of the project.”
‘There isn’t a perfect solution’
The causes of frustration at this junction are pretty clear.
It’s a six-pronged roundabout sandwiched between the city’s main hospital, its main trunk road and a major retail park.
On the other three sides there is a large housing estate, and roads leading to two of the fastest growing areas in Scotland.
Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie is not convinced the proposals will change much.
He said: “If it goes ahead as it is, I really can’t see a huge difference being made.
“I don’t understand why – having been through years of trauma trying to get this sorted – it’s like we’re saying we’ll take third best and anything is better than nothing.”
Fellow councillor Ken Gowans isn’t holding out much hope either.
He said: “Whatever they do, it isn’t going to be the perfect solution. Frankly, there isn’t one.
“We aren’t starting with a blank canvas. We’re having to work within the parameters there.”
Inshes roundabout: A brief history of time
The speed of development in recent years has exacerbated the problem.
Back in 1989, councillors were deciding whether Inshes, Nairn or Tain should be the site earmarked for a huge development of 1,500 homes.
Inshes was ultimately chosen and has never looked back. But among the excitement, councillor Peter Peacock warned that care must be taken not to “overheat” the area.
The roundabout itself was built as part of the construction of a £12m retail park in the late 1990s.
By 2008, council planners were warning against plans for an Asda superstore in Slackbuie because the Inshes roundabout – two miles away – was already at breaking point.
There finally appeared to be hope when the junction was included in ambitious plans for the East Link in 2014.
The work we are doing will not solve congestion in Inverness, or congestion through Inshes roundabout.”
Gary Smith, Highland Council’s principal engineer
A plan to scrap the roundabout and turn it into a four-way crossroads with traffic lights was agreed, but it couldn’t go ahead until the A9-A96 link was finalised.
Active travel and a post-lockdown world
A lot has changed since then – Highland Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and the pandemic has made active travel a key issue.
But traffic volumes have been steadily creeping back up to pre-lockdown levels.
The familiar pinch points are rearing their head again.
What was agreed a few years ago is no longer a good fit. That’s why we find ourselves back at the drawing board.
As Mr Smith said, the Inshes roundabout will be a problem as long as people keep using cars.
Perhaps it’s time to rip up the whole transport network and start again.
Make your voice heard.
You have until July 27 to take part in the council’s public consultation.