Pressure is mounting on Inverness councillors ahead of a crunch meeting today as the local authority is accused of trying to “railroad” plans to cut traffic on Academy Street by 75 per cent without a full consultation.
Gavin Stevenson of the Mor-Rioghain Group – which runs several pubs and music venues like the Gellions and the newly opened Highlander – is the latest major business voice to decry the proposals.
The Inverness area committee has been asked to greenlight an £800,000 revamp of Academy Street that will restrict access to all vehicles except for deliveries, public transport and blue-badge holders.
It is hoped by cutting vehicles on the main artery to around 2000 a day the council will access cash to facilitate the changes from Sustrans but if vehicle access was continued then that cash would likely not be forthcoming.
That sparked a huge reaction from businesses like Marks and Spencers and organisations like Inverness Business Improvement District who worry that the effect at a time of crisis will be “catastrophic.”
Mr Stevenson says that the council would be effectively pedestrianising not just Academy Street but Church Street, Union Street, and Queensgate too and without any real consultation.
He said: “We are shocked and deeply concerned that a proposal which would effectively pedestrianise most of Inverness city centre is being railroaded through a council vote this Thursday with just four days prior notice and no prior public consultation.
“The de-facto pedestrianisation of Union Street, Academy Street, Queensgate, Church Street, and more now proposed by council officers has never been put to the public, would clearly not command support from the business community, and jeopardises the future of small businesses and jobs in Inverness.”
I would not have opened the Highlander if I had know about these plans
Had he known about the plans, Mr Stevenson says he would have never opened the Highlander on Church Street because the changes raise “the very real question as to whether many businesses could survive.”
“We operate several businesses in Inverness,” he said. “And recently opened the Highlander on Church street, converting an empty unit into a now thriving pub and live music venue, and in so doing we have created around 30 new jobs for the city centre between staff, contractors and musicians, and have created significant new economic activity, most of which is then spent with local suppliers.
“Had we had any warning that these proposals to ban private cars from the city centre were to be considered, we simply would not have invested in this new Inverness business, and should these proposals be passed it would raise the very real question as to whether many businesses could survive.
Vehicles still essential – you can’t carry a guitar amp on a bike
“Our city centre serves not just the residents of Inverness, it is a regional hub, serving residents of towns, villages and communities across the Highlands, who are largely reliant on private car use to access our city centre.
“Public transport options across the Highlands are woefully lacking by comparison to cities elsewhere that may have been able to implement such schemes more successfully.
“The reality is that access to our city centre by private car is vital, not just to bring customers and trade to our businesses or for customers to collect bulky items or drop the mobility impaired (not only blue badge holders) at our doorsteps, but also for local small business owners to be able to load and unload stock and supplies from their own private vehicles, and indeed for the safety of staff and customers (particularly late at night) to be picked up by friends and family without having to walk through town to more accessible streets.
“In our own businesses, we also book over 1000 music gigs a year, and these musicians are often reliant on using the loading zones outside our doors to be able to load and unload valuable, fragile, heavy and bulky musical equipment into the venues, and back into their cars afterward.
“Suggesting to a musician that they carry their guitar amp or drum kit into town on the back of a bicycle or on a bus is unrealistic in the extreme. And even if some form of permit system for service vehicles were to be applied to musicians and other contractors, the administration of over 1000 bookings a year would simply be cost prohibitive and an administrative nightmare for a small business like ours.
“This situation makes a mockery of the council’s previous consultation exercise, where businesses and the public were repeatedly assured that two way traffic and car access would be retained, and the way that this proposal has been hidden until the last minute surely goes against the requirement for public bodies to hold meaningful consultation with the public prior to decision making.”
Rethink the impact of the changes
He concluded: “We are urging the council to put this on hold and engage meaningfully with the business community, however, If the proposal is voted through then a legal challenge via judicial review now seems inevitable.”
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