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Academy Street: doubts remains about future of of Inverness centre regeneration plans

The plan is seen as a way of making the city centre more welcoming, attractive and healthier.

The plans envisage wider pavements and fewer cars
The plans envisage wider pavements and fewer cars

Most people agree that Academy Street in Inverness has to change.

It has been described as “unpleasant”, one of the most polluted streets in Scotland and “horribly hostile” for walkers.

But there is still less than a united front towards current plans to regenerate the main route through the city centre.

Highland Council hosted the latest consultation meeting on the plans which aim to shift focus from cars to walkers and wheelchair users.

It is part of a wider strategy to make Inverness more welcoming, attractive and healthier.

When could Academy Street work start?

Representatives from businesses, tourism, transport and active travel groups were among those who will provide feedback to the proposals.

It follows public drop-in sessions on the new plans held in March and which received a mixed response.

Feedback will be considered by the City of Inverness Area Committee on August 28.

If councillors back the plans, an application will be made for funding from the Scottish Government’s Places for Everyone programme and work could start in 2024.

Ian Brown outlined the plans at a meeting attended by representatives from businesses, tourism, transport and active travel groups. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

A new traffic management system would include banning through traffic. It would also add bus lanes on Academy Street between the junctions of Union Street and Queensgate to reduce congestion.

Cars coming from Millburn Road will have to turn left into Union Street and emerge from Queensgate.

They cannot turn left into Academy Street, but can turn right or continue along Strothers Lane.

The plan would stop through traffic in Academy Street. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

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, the would have to turn left on to Post Office Lane and then left into Academy Street.

Making the centre more attractive and accessible

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.

City leader Councillor Ian Brown said Academy Street will be a far better place to visit and shop in.

“At the moment if you’re a visitor and come by bus or train and hit Academy Street it’s a very busy road and it’s not pleasant.

“We want to make Academy Street a place for everyone. As the gateway to the Highland capital, Academy Street plays a significant role in welcoming visitors from near and far.

“We are confident that the proposed design will enhance the city centre and make Inverness a prime destination.”

Colin Marr said the plans need more detail. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

He stressed Academy Street is not being pedestrianised and that parking, loading bays and taxi ranks will remain the same.

But while there is general agreement the proposals are better than the status quo, concerns remain.

In particular, will cutting traffic on Academy Street from around 9,000 vehicles to under 2,000 shift pressure to other parts of the city?

The council believe the roads in areas like Crown and the Longman can cope, but others are not so sure.

Where’s the traffic going to go?

Fiona Macbeath, chair of Crown and City Centre Community Council, said after the meeting: “We are concerned about the traffic being diverted. Where’s it going to go?

“Obviously a lot of it is going to take a turn up through Crown which has very narrow Victorian streets.

“It’s a conservation area with a primary school and lot of people walking about there.”

She said more signs and perhaps a one-way system needs to be looked at.

“I’d like to think they are putting a lot of thought into what’s going to happen.”

New bus lanes are planned for Academy Street

Colin Marr, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said his personal thoughts are that the principle is right but the plans need more detail.

“Has enough thought been given to displacement of traffic? The Longman can already be bad.

“Displacement to Crown is a concern as well.

“I like the overall idea of wider streets and street cafes, but we have to make sure businesses can deliver that and get some support to deliver that.”

Mr Marr said consideration should also be given to deliveries being offloaded elsewhere, using other means such as electric vehicles, or firms being helped to deliver outside the centre.

More consultation needed

Yvonne Crook, chair of Highland Tourism CIC, said more consultation is needed.

“We welcome any initiative that will make the Highlands a more premium visitor experience.

“However, it’s important that any initiatives also make the place a better place to live and work and more consultation with the community is required to ensure that is the case”

Emily Williams, the city’s first bicycle mayor, is generally in favour of the plans.

“I fully support measures to reduce car traffic in the city centre.

Jamie Long believes the plans could improve access in Academy street. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

“It’s a ridiculous concept that you can use somewhere that’s supposed to be a business space and a shopping opportunity as a through road.

“I’m staggered that there are people arguing for keeping Academy Street how it is. It’s a horribly hostile place to walk.

“I would advocate going further, but I can also see challenges presented to business, so it’s a good middle ground.”

‘So far it sounds good’

Jamie Long, from Highland Wheelchair Basketball, said he is hopeful the plans will improve access.

“So far it sounds good. Wider pavements and fewer cars would be nice.

“It will be easier to use the pavements that it is now. At the moment I’m ok but need to be careful, one moment of inattention and things can go wrong.

“The plans are going to help, as long as they are careful where they put the street furniture and to make the transition from pavement to pavement as flat and easy as possible.”

For more Academy Street stories, from new businesses to access plans, visit our Academy Street page.