Thousands of jobs and a development plan to guide Inverness through the next half century were secured with the confirmation of Inverness’s City Region Deal yesterday.
Jubilant city leaders met UK and Scottish Government ministers to sign the historic document which gives the area a £315million cash pot, as exclusively revealed in the Press and Journal on Wednesday.
The deal could also unlock enough private sector funding to make the deal ultimately worth more than £1billion over the next 20 years.
The announcement was widely hailed as “transformational” by the Highlands’s political and business leaders – with 1,125 new jobs expected to be created along with a further 2,200 additional jobs in the construction sector.
Major projects include creating a tourist attraction at Inverness Castle, the construction of 6,000 new houses, building link roads in both the west and east of the city and a flyover aiming at tackling congestion at the Longman interchange.
A major investment has also been pledged for the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) as well as improvements in digital coverage to enable business growth.
One official said it would effectively give the area a 50-year plan.
The deal was signed by Scottish Government infrastructure secretary Keith Brown and Scotland Office minister Andrew Dunlop yesterday morning, along with council leader Mrs Davidson.
She said: “It has been a good morning, I don’t get to sign a document which means we get more than £300million in the Highlands every day.
“And that’s just the start of it. We’ve done our bit with this and then we hope to bring in another £700million in other investment.
“As the infrastructure is built, the A9 is being dualled and the A96 as well so you’ll be able to get in and out of Inverness much quicker. We’ll have better air links, we’ve got the London link back so we need to build on that.”
Mr Brown added: “It’s an absolute red letter day for Inverness.
“I suppose when people were advocating city status for Inverness this is the kind of development they had in mind.
“But this will also benefit the whole of the Highlands, not least with the emphasis on transport connections.
“We’ll have the A96 dualled by 2030, the A9 by 2025, the Longman Roundabout as well.
“That taken together with the digital connectivity means the Highlands will get connected in a way they’ve never been before.”
Lord Dunlop hailed the job creation element of the deal, adding: “We want to make this the most digitally connected rural area anywhere in Europe and we think that is an aspiration which is highly achievable and this deal helps to unlock that.”
One of the first phases of the spending plans will be the long-awaited revamp of Inverness Castle as a tourist attraction, with plans for relocating the city’s sheriff courts to a site off the Longman Road already being developed.
The council’s planning and development director Stuart Black, who played a key part in developing the council’s plans for spending the city deal, said the scheme would create “a future of 50 years of development” for Inverness and the wider region.
Inverness MP Drew Hendry was among the first to call for the investment when he was leader of Highland Council.
He said: “I’m absolutely delighted to have the deal delivered after all of this time. It seems an age ago since 2014 when I first wrote to the prime minister and now to have the deal delivered, it’s a real breakthrough for Inverness and the Highlands.
“Connectivity, making sure that we have proper 21st century infrastructure, the ability to plan for the future for young people in particular, housing and jobs – it’s a really good package and a transformational time for the Highlands.”
There was also praise at the ceremony launching the City Deal for Mr Hendry’s predecessor as MP for Inverness, Nairn, Banedoch and Strathspey Danny Alexander, who pushed for the investment during his time at the heart of government.
Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing added: “We intend to make Scotland the best place in the UK to do business and the real Northern Powerhouse – this deal ensures the UK’s most northerly city will play a full part in delivering this ambitious vision.”
Inverness provost Councillor Helen Carmichael added: “It just moves us on for the next 20 years at least I’d say.
“I think this will move Inverness from being an old town into a new city.”
The deal is made up of a £135million contribution from the Scottish Government, £53million from the UK Government, plus a further £127million from Highland Council and other regional partners.