Chief Executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Stewart Nicol, reflects on the welcome changes taking place in the city, and the transport and communication improvements which are needed to complete the picture.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has undoubtedly impacted all aspects of our business, community, family and individual lives in unbelievable ways that we will all have to work through personally and together. It is absolutely appropriate that we respond to it as the biggest health emergency that all of us will face and that we pause to remember and reflect on those who have been most affected. The impact of the measures we have had to endure, while creating an opportunity for business, have greatly accelerated long-standing trends we have been grappling with, no more so than are facing the city of Inverness.
As I reflect on the many challenges, I am also quite clear that we have an almost unique opportunity to shape what we want our city to be for generations to come. I'm utterly convinced that we need to be ambitious and forward looking when it comes to our built environment. Our city centre has changed and will continue to do so and that transition will require vision, collaboration and strong leadership. But, our built environment has to be more than just how we construct and use the buildings and space in our city centre. It has to include how we are connected physically and digitally to the rest of Scotland, the UK and globally. Our built environment will help shape how we are viewed by locals and visitors, both national and international. It will also, to a significant effect, determine what we become famous for.
There are significant projects currently underway in the city and recent award-winning examples of what can be achieved as we shift the balance of how we use our city space. The Inverness Castle project and Victorian Market redevelopment are two excellent examples of how we can modernise and fundamentally change some of our built heritage. Appropriately transforming both buildings will create an exciting and innovative space which will allow us to showcase our city and region. It will allow us to connect with our heritage and culture while providing a platform on which to set out our fabulous food, drink and artistic offerings. What better a way for visitors to experience our city, which is unique in the Highlands as the start and finish of the world-renowned, NC500.
We are undoubtedly transitioning into a new place as we see a welcome increase in city centre residential dwellings. A number of recent developments are nearing completion, as new opportunities commence. The award-winning Raining's Stairs development is, to my mind, a stunning exemplar of what can be done to transform a complex and difficult space into appropriate and much-needed accommodation. The bar has been set to an appropriate level. Current residential projects in Union Street and Academy Street are proving that we can get the balance of residential and retail right. The fact that city-centre retail space is challenging, is clear to all. Addressing that requires innovation and bold decisions which will facilitate such space being used to ensure business, arts, culture and food & drink are attracted to and embedded into our city centre.
Having appropriate transport and digital connectivity are also vital, if we are to attract visitors and vital investment to our region. Much has still to be done in both of these most basic of areas. We're still not seeing appropriate progress with the road infrastructure around our city and region. While progress on the new rail station for Inverness Airport is welcome, necessary upgrades for our rail network on the Highland Main Line and other routes are still on the distant horizon. Perhaps the Scottish Government's ambitious 'Decarbonisation Agenda' will give us the quality of offering, service frequency and journey speed that will finally lift our rail experience out of the past?
One of the final pieces in our city's built environment is to establish an appropriate transport hub which connects our city to the region and world. The prospects are tantalising and, with an allied transformation of our rail station we can, I believe, create a built environment in which we can all have pride.
There is an air of anticipation in Inverness about the imminent development of the integrated transport hub in the centre of the city.
In February the group of major stakeholders, whose task is the realisation of the new hub, met formally for the first time. It is led by HITRANS and Transport Scotland and will oversee the project. The group, which includes Abellio ScotRail, Network Rail and Highland Council, has agreed terms of reference.
Reactions to the first meeting were very positive; Frank Roach, Partnership Manager of HITRANS said, "This is a unique opportunity to redesign the city centre around an integrated public transport hub which will help us move towards Scotland's 2045 net zero target." Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart commented, "As anyone living, working or coming regularly to Inverness will tell you, this investment has been badly-needed for many years."