by Colin Campbell
CITY centre traders hoping for an early resurgence of business to claw back some of the money they’ve lost during lockdown have not had a good week.
Not only has there been a dispiriting shortage of customers – and there were no more around yesterday than there were on a fairly barren reopening day on Monday – much of the precinct looks a ramshackle mess.
A large part of High Street is encased in scaffolding, there’s more of the same in Castle Street, a giant scaffolding framework dominates lower Academy Street, and there are more bollards and red-and-white street barriers than you’d get on the route to a royal wedding. It’s not a welcoming sight.
Shop owners claim the creation of more space for cyclists and pedestrians in Inverness city centre could be “the final nail in the coffin” for businesses.
That assessment may be excessively gloomy and premature.
But they are the people trying to balance their books, and if they’re in despair at what they’re seeing around them that’s not surprising.
The scaffolding will no doubt be dismantled at some point.
The hundreds of yards of plastic barriers snaking around the centre have also been placed to enable social distancing among shoppers in pavement areas.
But in the past few days, the few shoppers there have had the pavements all to themselves.
The council has vaguely linked all this to the notion of promoting “active travel” in the city centre and reducing the volume of traffic there.
But anyone trying to cycle through the city centre finds Academy Street, in particular, has been narrowed for traffic, making it even riskier for cyclists. So do bike users go inside the barriers and weave in and out of them? Who knows?
With the current layout of restrictions it’s not easier to cycle in the centre – it’s more hazardous and difficult.
A council spokesman said the new measures include provision for physical distancing and would give people choices.
“We have seen a reduction in traffic and an increase in active travel during the pandemic which we want to encourage and build upon,” he said.
The reason for the reduction in traffic has been because every shop in the city centre has been closed. It shouldn’t take the collective brainpower of the council transport department to work that out.
But now the centre is reopening again and traders want to see customers back to keep their businesses alive, and consider that is far more of a priority than the merits of promoting active travel.
So far, customers have not returned in significant numbers. The weekend may, or may not, bring an upturn in trade.
The council may need time to work out what they want the barrier-strewn city centre to look like, rather than the confusing mess it is now.
But traders struggling for survival would reasonably say that for them, time is rapidly running out.