The man leading a taskforce to regenerate Inverness city centre says the involvement of private businesses is the key to success.
Stuart Black, the Highland Council’s director of planning and development, urged retailers and bar owners to get involved in the myriad schemes the group is pursuing.
The taskforce was set up in April to co-ordinate the regeneration of the city centre.
Mr Black said: “The projects we are working on are ones I think are significant for the city centre. We want a city centre we can be proud of, one that is attractive to local people and visitors.
“That is really important.”
Mr Black was born in Inverness and has worked for the local authority since 2008, having previously held top positions at Highlands and Island Enterprise.
And he is enthusiastic about the city, citing the River Ness as a favourite place.
He said: “The river is such a huge natural asset for us. It has such a stunning view. You can be in the middle of the city but you’ve got people fishing for salmon and can see Ben Wyvis.
“It does have a special quality about it.”
And he defended the council against charges it has spent too long talking about the future of Inverness.
He added: “I think the council is investing positively in the future of the city centre and I hope that will encourage confidence from the private sector.”
One initiative which will soon bear fruit is the opening of the north tower at Inverness Castle.
A viewing platform is proposed for the upper floors of the building, allowing tourists to enjoy spectacular vistas of the city.
Mr Black said it was hoped to open the castle in time for Easter next year, although contractors have not yet been appointed.
He added: “It has been called one of the finest views in Britain.”
In the long term, there are proposals for the Scottish Courts Service to leave the castle, which could become the centre of a new cultural quarter for the city, with a museum, gallery and library on the cards.
Until that happens – the courts may not move until at least 2018 – the facade of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery will be revamped.
But Mr Black says that there are other ways of attracting tourists to the city, including extending shop opening hours into the evenings when many Europeans are returning from day trips.
As well as attracting more people to live in the city, Mr Black want to bring more office workers into the area and create “incubator units” for fledgling businesses.
He says that the recent announcement of a wifi project for Inverness, under the City Region Deal, would boost the scheme.
And he believes the newly-announced funding for Academy Street will play a major role in the area’s regeneration.
But he said one of the main stumbling blocks to some of the development in Academy Street was the large number of property owners.
He said;| “Some things we have control over, some we don’t. We are dependent on developers coming forward with plans for student accommodation.
“But there is no doubt that because the campus is now open, there is a real buzz.”
More improvements are planned at the Victorian Market, long regarded as a “jewel in the crown” of Inverness.
Mr Black said the entrances would be made brighter to create a more welcoming feel and improve the main entrance on Academy Street.
He also wants to encourage city living, welcoming the idea of more student flats in the heart of Inverness.
Construction of one block has already started in Rose Street, although plans for more huge apartment buildings were rejected by councillors.
Mr Black said: “We can set the policies and we can share the vision but ultimately the private sector or university has to deliver. There are funding challenges for property owners.
“But we are confident that we will get accommodation, particularly because the university is high quality. It will change the perception of the city. People will say that the university has arrived in Inverness.
“There is a sense of presence and people will start thinking ‘yes I would like to study there’.
“I think students want to live in the city centre – that’s where the facilities are, where the nightlife is.
“I think the students will come to the city centre to enjoy the pubs and restaurants.
“As Inverness develops a more university feel, more students will come and the city centre will benefit.”
While some people have been critical of the amount of scaffolding in the city centre, Mr Black claims it is a sign of renewal.
The Town House has been shrouded in a cage of scaffold as part of its £4.2million restoration – although unusually the council has hidden the metalwork under a specially-made curtain.
Mr Black said: “We get people saying there is too much scaffolding in the city centre. But on the other hand, if it was demolition and things weren’t happening, that is not a good sign.
“Cranes in the city centre are a sign of redevelopment and renewal, though there is some scaffolding that we would like to see taken away.”