Responding to Highland Council proposals to effectively ban private vehicles from Academy Street in Inverness, Cllr Isabelle Mackenzie has urged the Council to listen to businesses and withdraw the unworkable and anti-business changes.
Cllr Mackenzie said:
Think of the livelihoods tied to Inverness businesses and their dependence on customer access. Business concerns against this plan are significant and valid. Likewise, think of the impact on care workers and others navigating the Academy Street route.
Claims that this scheme curtails pollution are questionable. Shifting 75% of current vehicles to longer routes would in fact double fuel use and emissions. The idea of benefiting cyclists through this is also misleading; a narrower road leads to closer (and potentially more dangerous) vehicle passes and prevents cyclists from moving up at traffic lights.
Businesses in the city centre require traffic for more than just deliveries. Business owners, in touch with customers, understand their needs better than council officers. As an example, opposition from Meiles, the popular ice cream shop, reflects this; they recognise that customers often drive in during evenings. Consider also take aways and other food services.
Direct routes are crucial for carers; however, there is no evidence of any understanding of this. We must consider our aging population, who are often excluded from digital processes, along with limited access to reliable public transport or appropriate disabled badges. Age falls under Equality Act protection, demanding scrutiny of the plan's impact on older citizens. HSCN Group not been represented. Stories of residents struggling with increased travel times resonate. The assumption of some widespread, seamless transition to alternate modes is overly optimistic. We cannot overlook the need for enhanced public transport and reliability of local infrastructure before urging shifts.
Supporters of the proposal claim “as much as 11%” of drivers may adapt – but this leaves 89% with longer routes, creating damaging congestion in the Longman and Crown areas. Claims of a mere 10% rise in traffic through these areas are dubious at best. I witness the already congested streets around Crown. Diriebught road is often used as a through route from Millburn Road, past Millburn School. Congestion is atrocious around school drop off and pick up times. Traffic goes through to Midmills Road, MacEwan Drive to Kingsmills. All around Crown District traffic is already busy, and would become worse.
Inverness is a hub for many businesses beyond Academy Street. Its role as a "County Town" carries historical significance, and the City is an important stop for local towns and villages. Thousands forced onto longer routes would strain Crown and Longman traffic, worsening existing congestion.
Academy Street is an important artery in the circulation system of Inverness. We all heard from a carer who criss-crosses Inverness between clients. She is one of those passing through Academy Street - but no one can say her journeys are not needed. Tying off the Academy Street artery would cause our city the same sort of issues as doing that to a person. Disability, restricted activity or death.
This proposal lacks comprehensive consultation and stakeholder discussions. There is strong evidence of a lack of proper and thorough impact assessment around Inverness. Pressures to rush due to funding threats evoke memories of the Raigmore Bus gate debacle. It's crucial to avoid history repeating itself. Today, the consensus is clear – businesses strongly reject this proposal. It's hard to imagine Sustrans endorsing a project unpopular among businesses and residents. Shouldn't we rethink support for a project with potential legal challenges? Banning private vehicles inconveniences residents and businesses. Cyclists sharing a narrow carriageway with vans, taxis, cars, buses and lorries face heightened risks.