Plans to regenerate Academy Street in Inverness have hit a diversion as the controversy has taken another twist.
Highland Council’s Inverness city committee voted by 12 votes to 10 on Monday to proceed with the proposals.
It gave the go-ahead to finalise the proposed design and consult on a traffic regulation order.
But action is now on hold after a notice of amendment was received to refer the committee decision to the full council meeting on September 14.
Call for a trial and referendum
The amendment is signed by nine councillors including Alasdair Christie whose proposed alternative plan was narrowly outvoted on Monday.
He wants a two-month trial period for the traffic plans and a public referendum on whether they should continue.
Mr Christie said: “A 12-10 vote is hardy an overwhelming endorsement of anything and it shows the committee was split.
“This is something that is so important for the city.
“I’m desperately in favour of improving Academy Street and the city centre. But we have to take people with us on this one and we have to get it right.”
The plans are aimed at shifting focus from cars to walkers and wheelchair users.
It is part of a wider strategy to make Inverness more welcoming, attractive and healthier.
A new traffic management system would include banning through traffic in Academy Street and adding bus lane sections between the junctions of Union Street and Queensgate to reduce congestion.
Cars coming from Millburn Road would 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.
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.
Planned changes have had a mixed response
Significantly wider footpaths and better pedestrian crossings are envisaged, along with more street and outdoor cafes.
The planned changes have been welcomed by active travel campaigners.
But they have been opposed by many city centre businesses who fear they could lead to closures and job losses.
Last week, the owners of the Eastgate Centre suggested restricting the use of Academy Street by private vehicles to between 10am-4.30pm as a compromise.
Others have raised concerns about the impact of removing cars from Academy Street on other parts of the city.
This is something that is so important for the city.
Mr Christie said there needs to be an economic impact assessment and an examination of the effect of displaced traffic.
He also wants more consultation among affected groups and community councils before a trial and referendum.
“It’s a question of getting it right and to be as inclusive as we can be.
“To ensure that everyone who wants to can feed into the process. At the moment that’s not the case.
“The haste with which this has been taken forward is just not right.”
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