Council chiefs in Inverness are poised to spend £145,000 on planting trees and shrubs to try to make the city’s key gateways more attractive.
The scheme aims to transform the main approach roads into tree-lined avenues – and introduce a more green and hilly “Highland style” to the entrance and exit routes.
Specially-designed art-works could also be erected to welcome visitors to the regional capital.
But the move emerged amid ongoing controversies over plans to spend taxpayers’ money on a “Tilting Pier” at the riverside and a shelved bid to clad the city’s museum and art gallery in a “gold coat”.
Questions were asked about the bill for the tree-planting project last night – and there were claims the move would be pointless if the proposed new Inverness prison was built on the main A9 entrance from the south.
Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr said: “It seems an awful lot of money, especially when the city boundaries are extending.
“I think most people would be more impressed if we used the money to fill in the potholes.
“Inverness already has trees all around it already, so I’m not aware that a few extra trees would stand out.”
However, the proposal was widely welcomed by civic leaders and business chiefs as vital to make the city a more attractive destination.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said: “This is fantastic – a very welcome initiative.
“We really need to make sure the many tourists that come from all over the world go away impressed with what the city has to offer.
“As the old adage goes, you only get the chance to make a first impression once.”
In a report to a meeting of councillors next week, local authority officers confirmed that consultants had analysed seven different options to “portray an attractive and proud image for visitors and local residents alike”.
Schemes involving tree planting and re-landscaping were proposed for the Longman section of the A9, the A82 Longman Road, the Telford Roundabout, the A862 Clachnaharry Road, and B865 Millburn Road, while a new cycleway and “arrival zone” was suggested for the city end of the Kessock Bridge.
The locations have also been earmarked for “city gateway structures” – statue-type monuments to mark visitors’ entry and exit from Inverness.
Local authority officials have recommended embarking on the three schemes as “demonstrator projects”.
The proposals put forward for the first phase would be the installation of green space and extra trees at the Telford Roundabout, the creation of an avenue at Longman Road by planting trees and shrubs in the central reservation, and the erection of the first “gateway structure” at Clachnaharry.
The £145,000 budget has already been allocated within the Town and Countryside Regeneration Capital Programme.
Councillors will be asked to approve the demonstration schemes at a meeting of the Inverness City Committee on Thursday.
Inverness South councillor Ken Gowans said that any benefits from the scheme would be negated if the new Inverness Prison was built at Milton of Leys.
He added: “Allocating this amount of money demonstrates how important the gateways are to Inverness, making them more attractive for residents and visitors.
“But it would seem a paradox that we would then seek to undermine the gateways by allowing a prison to be built at the main entrance.”
Inverness Civic Trust spokesman John West has been a high-profile critic of the council in recent months, but welcomed the tree-planting plans last night.
He said: “On this occasion, I think they would have my approval. I think that initiative would be welcomed.”