Too far, or not far enough? Inverness residents are getting their first look at how Academy Street could look in the future and feelings are mixed.
Highland Council’s plans are open to consultation at drop-in sessions in the city’s Spectrum Centre.
A new traffic management system would include banning through traffic and bus lane sections on Academy Street between the junctions of Union Street and Queensgate to reduce congestion.
What will the new Academy Street plans mean for cars?
Cars coming from Millburn Road will have to turn left into Union Street and emerge from Queensgate.
They cannnot turn left into Academy Street, but can turn right or continue along Strothers Lane.
Vehicles approaching from Chapel Street have to turn left when they reach Strothers Lane.
Drivers coming into the city via Chapel Street and Church Street would not be able to access Queensgate, instead having to turn left on to Post Office Lane and then left into Academy Street.
Significantly wider footpaths and better pedestrian crossings are envisaged to make the area more attractive and accessible for locals and visitors walking, cycling and using wheelchairs.
The council says the development of the main thoroughfare will be a significant milestone in the regeneration of Inverness city centre.
A formal consultation is planned later this year. Construction would start in spring of 2024 subject to approval and funding.
Temporary measures were introduced in Academy Street during the pandemic as part of the ‘Spaces for People’ project.
In November, councillors narrowly backed a plan to restrict cars using Academy Street.
Aiming to create a more welcoming, attractive and healthy city centre
But firms who said they were not consulted have threatened a legal challenge.
The council has now secured funding for the Academy Street design through ‘Places for Everyone’, a scheme funded by the Scottish Government through Transport Scotland and administered by Sustrans.
It believes the vision will transform Academy Street to become more welcoming, attractive and healthier.
Principal traffic officer Shane Manning said the status quo is not an option: “We need to make Academy Street a fit-for-purpose and pleasant environment for people who work and live in the town, and for people to come to shop with their families.
“We have an opportunity to deliver this through national funding. We have to satisfy the funders’ criteria but also take on board the community’s and business’s views.”
Supporters of the scheme say it a chance to create a greener, more pedestrian-friendly city centre.
But opponents are angry about the effect it might have on city centre footfall.
Some have also raised concerns that cutting traffic on Academy Street from around 9,000 vehicles to under 2,000 will shift pressure to other parts of the city.
The council says when the changes take place, vehicles will be distributed around Inverness’s main “circulatory routes”.
One of the first to attend the drop-in session was Phyllis MacRae, who visits the city centre once or twice a week from Scorguie.
“I don’t think they should be stopping the cars going through the town. It’s a step too far. The minority is ruling the majority.
‘It’s not as bad as I thought’
“If you have to pick something up at Morrisons or Marks and Spencer it’s a long way to go round.
“It’s discriminating against people living in Merkinch, the Carse Scourguie and anyone on that side to the town.
“They want to put the traffic up to the Crown and Kingsmills area, but they will be complaining at the traffic there.”
Her husband Charlie added: “They said it was to do with (traffic) fumes, but everything is going electric, so that will cut back the fumes.”
Kenneth Mackenzie, from Inverness, said after viewing the plans: “It’s not as bad as I thought.
“People will end up doing more miles to get where they’re going.
“But there are ways around every problem and it may make Academy Street a nicer place.”
He said wider pavements and better crossing points will make it better for wheelchair users, while fewer cars will ease congestion.
“It’s swings and roundabouts. But after seeing the exhibition I’m a bit more reassured that’s it’s not a totally lunatic idea.”
Katie Noble, from Inverness, said she currently avoids Academy Street on her bike.
She hopes the plans will help make the centre safer, more pleasant and more child-friendly.
“A lot of the businesses who are opposed to it don’t realise how beneficial it could be.
“Reducing through traffic is essential to get more people into the town centre as it will be a more pleasant environment.”
In December, the Press and Journal held a week-long poll on the plans.
Of the 848 people who took part, 508 (59.9%) were in support, with 340 (40.1%) against.
Are there more drop-in sessions?
The designs will be on display at the Spectrum Centre tomorrow and Thursday from 1pm-7pm.
They are also available online with hundreds of people having already given opinons.
Many feel the scheme will encourage more walking or cycling and will improve a sense of local community.
It will also provide more opportunities for shops and businesses and make Academy Street safer.
One contributor said the scheme should not be diluted: “Inverness city centre will only thrive if it adapts to new patterns of public behaviour.
“Cafes, unique retail activity, places to hang about in. The need for more greening (as in planters, tree and ‘living walls’) is clear.”
Another said: “There’s a real opportunity here for Inverness to join cities like Amsterdam in cutting the amount of traffic and pollution in the city centre.
“This could be the first major step to Inverness becoming the next great ‘green’ city.”
But it is also claimed the plans are not ambitious enough.
One comment says: “This is a once and a lifetime opportunity. Please, please, please involve some experts in urban ecology and urban growing.
“For Heaven’s sake, they are planning a farm in the centre of Birmingham, surely we can do something locally appropriate but equally ambitious?”
Will Inverness drivers switch to walking or cycling?
Another contributor, a keen cyclist, said they are generally in favour of improving cycling provision in the city.
But they said pressing ahead with moves to remove most traffic from Academy Street has been made “prematurely and in haste”.
“It is naive to think that a significant majority of those currently travelling by car will make the switch to public transport, walking or cycling.”
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