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High Street investment and change in Inverness must favour locals as well as visitors

The revival of the High Street is a hot topic among voters
The revival of the High Street is a hot topic among voters

In a world that is becoming increasingly closer, with online shopping almost second nature, the High Street as we know it may never be the same again.

A once proud attraction for all towns and cities, the High Street provided a meeting place where goods of all kinds could be sought and people would gather and share in the daily goings-on.

However, a shift in consumer mindset, coupled with the rise of online shopping, has led to many shops lying vacant for months with no immediate signs of their doors being flung open again.

What needs to change?

Take Inverness for example. Many premises have changed hands over the years, with some of the biggest retailers vacating berths they have held for decades.

Indeed a huge Debenhams-shaped hole remains inside the Eastgate Centre.

But just what would the people of Inverness like to see change? And what is being done to try to entice locals and visitors into the city centre?

Inverness High Street busy with shoppers.

Mark Smyth previously presented his own idea for a town square that would put independent businesses first.

Mr Smyth has said he feels diversifying what is on offer and offering experiences would encourage locals to spend more time in the city centre.

Variation would be welcomed

He said: “We currently have quite a lot of shops that are similar to each other, so variation would be welcomed, I would say.

“I think we should also look towards creating more seating and areas where people can stop and take in some time. There isn’t much at the moment and it would be good to create more meeting space to make the town centre a bit more vibrant.

“It would inject a bit of life and soul into an area that isn’t well visited by locals at present.”

Locals must be at the forefront of future plans

Mr Smyth does not believe there is a quick fix. Instead, he believes radical change is required.

He added: “I think we need a major development or overhaul.

“There is potential for the redevelopment of Bridge Street that could create something that is architecturally pleasing and creates an attraction for locals.

“Tinkering with it won’t do too much. We can create a visitor centre, which would be great, but it is for visitors. We need to think of and develop the city for the people of Inverness.

“People want to visit the city centre, but there is really little incentive at the moment.

Mark Smyth believes major change is required.

“I am just a bit concerned that on the High Street, unless something major is done, it will always just be a backwater.

“In Dublin, where I am from, they have a policy where shop signs all have to fit in with one another. If we had a bit of a makeover that would certainly help.

“Some of the buildings could do with a bit of attention too to declutter the weeds from gutters.”

Mix of traders may encourage locals into city centre

Fiona MacBeath is the chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council which incorporates the High Street and surrounding areas of Inverness.

She says a range of offerings would also be welcome to encourage visitors and locals into the centre of Inverness.

She said: “I think we need to encourage in new traders into the town centre as best we can.

“Anything we can do to encourage that the better. I think we need a mix of traders as well, not just tourist shops but a mix that will be appealing to residents as well as visitors to the area.

“We would like to see a year-round busy town centre.

“There has to be a continuity and not just a shop that opens for the summer.

“We all recognise the challenges are there and we need to play our part.”

A successful Inverness means a successful Highlands

Mike Smith of Inverness Bid said businesses in Inverness have been “amazingly resilient” over the last few years.

He said: “They have looked at the ways they work and have tried to keep going and be innovative and I think they have done very well.

“We have had our casualties but we haven’t had as many compared with some other cities.

“Inverness is the economic driver for the whole of the Highlands and we believe that a successful Inverness means a successful Highlands, both financially and economically.”

Businesses have been resilient – but more support required

Despite the positive outlook, Mr Smith has said more work needs to be done to help businesses.

He added: “Both governments need to work together to come up with a scheme where you have got a more level playing field.

Mike Smith of Inverness Bid.

“Online is obviously subsidised. It doesn’t suffer the same costs as physical buildings and schemes like an internet sales tax are crucial to levelling that playing field.”

Mr Smith has praised Highland Council for adopting a city centre approach when determining city planning applications.

Calls for action to end ‘unfair playing field’

He also said that action on rates for businesses would perhaps encourage more to take up vacant units.

He added: “It is tying one hand behind the back of those people who want to be entrepreneurial and to develop their businesses.

“It is an unfair playing field.

“The good news is we still have people out there looking for an opportunity.

“We need more service, physical experiences or activity and to up our game but we need to do that on a level playing field.”

Injection of life sought

As voters take to the polls next month for the Scottish council elections, the revival of the High Street is a hot topic among voters.

Many wish for some injection of life to provide that busy place of years gone by.

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