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Academy Street: Eastgate Centre bosses call for cars on thoroughfare between 10am and 4.30pm ONLY

Businesses and active travel users are stepping up their campaign ahead of a crunch vote on Monday.

The owners of the Eastgate Shopping Centre want the Academy Street plans halted
The owners of the Eastgate Shopping Centre want the Academy Street plans halted

The owners of the Eastgate Centre have urged councillors to halt the controversial Academy Street traffic scheme and find a compromise.

They say closure of the city centre road to through traffic will have a “significantly negative economic impact”.

Instead, they suggest restricting the use of Academy Street by private vehicles to between 10am-4.30pm.

It is the latest salvo in the battle of the future of Academy Street which is intensifying ahead of a crucial vote next week.

Those for and against the controversial plans have been making last minute pleas to councillors and the public.

Will there be a legal challenge?

City centre businesses say the proposed traffic scheme will lead to closures and job losses.

There is also a warning of a possible legal challenge if the scheme gets approved.

But active travel campaigners say the plans will make the centre safer and more accessible while helping to tackle climate change.

The banning of through traffic is aimed at reducing congestion in Academy Street.

It is part of a strategy to make Inverness more welcoming, attractive and healthier and shift focus from cars to walkers and wheelchair users.

Highland Council’s Inverness area committee will discuss the issue on Monday.

If backed by councillors, the authority will move to finalise the design, consult on a Traffic Regulation Order and include economic impact assessments.

An application will be made for funding from the Scottish Government’s Places for Everyone programme and work could start in 2024.

A No vote will see work will stop and bollards used to widen pavements removed.

Through traffic would be banned in Academy Street

Scoop Asset Management, for the Eastgate owners, says it is not against reducing Academy Street traffic to make it safer for non-car users.

But it says the plan will increase pollution to other streets where cars will be diverted.

It will also encourage people to drive to out-of-town retail parks rather than the city centre, it argues.

“Unfortunately there’s been a lack of engagement, a lack of consultation and no commissioning of an independent economic impact assessment.

“We feel the members of the (committee) should pause and take a step back (more haste, less speed), engage and work together to find solutions, alternatives and compromise that work positively for the city to prosper.”

Businesses ‘terrified’

Scoop says restricting use of Academy Street by cars to 10am-4.30pm would reduce traffic by 75%.

“It might not exactly fit the strict criteria, but it’s a compromise that we’d certainly support and would achieve all the objectives of reducing carbon emissions throughout the city centre.”

It also suggests using a park & ride scheme before implementing the restrictions on car users.

This week, Miele’s Gelateria and the Panasonic Shop in Church Street were among businesses who spoke out against the plan.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce also called for compensation for affected businesses if the plan goes ahead.

Scott Murray says the plans could be challenged

Scott Murray, from Cru Holdings, which owns a number of city operations, said businesses are “terrified”.

He said: “If the vote is in favour of the proposals, we will look to scrutinise all aspects of the process to that point.

“If it is found that they (the council) have not acted properly then there will be a challenge.”

He added: “Businesses in the city centre are terrified because, without an economic impact assessment, without a trial, we cannot possibly know for sure what the end result is going to be.”

Strong support for the planned scheme

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “Subject to members agreeing the recommendation next week, officers would look to continue the design process, including consultation and engagement, as explained in the report to be discussed by city of Inverness area committee on Monday.”

Emily Williams is the bicycle mayor of Inverness. She supports further traffic restrictions in the city centre, including segregated cycle lanes. However, she says the proposal is a “significant improvement”.

She said the main barriers to cycling is the volume and speed of traffic and the lack of cycle-friendly infrastructure.

“There is strong support among local residents for schemes that make walking and cycling in Inverness more pleasant and inclusive.

“By preventing through traffic there will be a significant reduction in vehicle movements along Academy Street, which brings numerous benefits to the city centre.”

The scheme aims to shift the focus from driving to walking, cycling and wheeling

She said it will make Academy Street safer and a cut in air pollution will bring health benefits.

“While there is likely to be some short term disruption during construction, there is substantial published evidence from other cities all around the world that making streets more attractive for walking and cycling results in increased footfall, (with) people staying for longer and spending more.”

Ms Williams said the scheme will make Academy Street more accessible to 46% of households in the Central ward and 25% of households in Millburn ward who don’t have access to a car or van.

“I have also spoken with wheelchair users who have expressed just how hard it is to travel on Academy Street currently, and how the proposed scheme will make the town centre substantially more accessible to them.”

She said measures could address concerns about traffic displacement to areas including Crown.

‘It’s critical we address this now’

She added: “While there has been vocal opposition from a minority in the business community, there have been no credible alternative solutions proposed.”

Emily Williams says some people don’t feel safe to cycle in InvernessDr Bridie Barnett, from the Kidical Mass group, said active travel has significant benefits to health, including diabetes, obesity and mental health.

“However many people don’t have the confidence to cycle in Inverness due to the volume of traffic in the city centre and the lack of safe cycling routes through the city.

“It is critical that we address this now, for the benefit of residents and visitors.”

Matt Lafferty, Inverness Active Travel Hub coordinator, added: Traffic and noise and pollution on Academy street has been an issue for everyone for far too long.

“I think this scheme does an excellent job of balancing accessibility for all while restricting needless through traffic, which offers no economic benefit for the city centre.”

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