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Revised plans will 'bring people back' to Academy Street in Inverness

By Gregor White

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Council officers stressed today that plans for Academy Street will limit vehicle access – but not eliminate it completely.
Council officers stressed today that plans for Academy Street will limit vehicle access – but not eliminate it completely.

Planned changes to the layout of Academy Street in Inverness city centre will bring benefits for both businesses and the public.

That was the message from councillors and council officers at an information session held at the city's Spectrum Centre this afternoon.

The first of a series of such gatherings being held this week they aim to give the public a chance to see what is proposed, ask questions and offer their opinions as well as suggestions for how the scheme may be improved.

It follows a highly critical response to initial plans published by the council before Christmas.

Under the latest iteration unveiled by the council last week bus lanes will be incorporated as part of the scheme between Queensgate and Union Street.

The design also proposes significantly widened footpaths for walking and wheeling, improved pedestrian crossing facilities, and a range of opportunities for enhancing the public realm with street furniture and trees.

The council's principal traffic officers, Shane Manning, said: "The fundamental aim is to reduce traffic on Academy Street by 75 per cent by stopping traffic being able to use it as a through-route from one end to the other.

"Traffic, however, would still be able to access Queensgate, Union Street and Church Street.

"We have measured it and the vast majority of traffic currently coming through Academy Street is travelling straight through, not stopping in the city centre."

Earlier proposals which would have limited vehicle access along the entire length of Academy Street to emergency vehicles, deliveries and public transport drew a furious reaction from city centre businesses.

Mr Manning, however, stressed that the council was very much in listening mode.

The latest changes were as a result of discussions already carried out with stakeholders, he said, and the door was very much open to further refinements.

A special information session for businesses only was held earlier today and Mr Manning said: "Any business – shop, restaurant, whatever – is absolutely welcome to come and see for themselves what we are proposing, to ask questions and make suggestions."

Transport planning officer Neil Young said: "The key message is that we are not going for pedestrianisation. This is about cutting the amount of traffic on Academy Street, but not eliminating it entirely, and making it easier for people to choose a different mode of transport for shorter journeys in particular."

He quoted a figure stating that up to 13.7 million journeys made by vehicle in Inverness each year are for three miles or less.

"Those could be taken more sustainably by using the bus, cycling or walking," he said.

Inverness city leader Councillor Ian Brown also attended this afternoon's session and said: "This plan does what it says on the tin – it stops through traffic on Academy Street but does not prevent access to the street completely.

"I think improvements will bring people back to Academy Street.

"The city centre should be a destination to shop, visit, to take friends out, to have a coffee, not a short cut to pass through to get to other places."

The public will have further chances to view the plans and speak to officers today and Thursday from 1-7pm both days.

Businesses can view the designs from 9am-noon on the same days.

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