by Colin Campbell
INVERNESS city centre is in a hell of a mess. There’s no other way of putting it. Barriers, bollards and scaffolding are everywhere. At a time when traders are trying to attract customers in a desperate and maybe last ditch effort to survive it’s about as appealing as a shopping trip to Spaghetti Junction.
If this were happening at any other time there would be a public outcry. But because it’s happening during the coronavirus crisis the response has been all too muted. That was always going to be the risk, that because we’ve been told with absolute precision about what we can and can’t do over the past four months, the authorities now feel free to explore the outer limits of our subservience by acting with impunity.
And if there is any dissent they’ll brush it aside and attribute any decisions they make to the virus.
There has been no serious attempt to explain why the centre is swamped with so many barrier and bollard restrictions other than vague references to the need for social distancing. With the appallingly ramshackle state of the place many people will maintain a social distance by not going anywhere near it.
Shops as a result will go bust. And then there’ll be hardly any need for people to go there in any case. Is that what officialdom wants?
Rows of snaking barriers and bollards are everywhere in a display of red and white plastic purgatory for drivers and shoppers alike. It’s difficult to know where to start in asking if they’re all absolutely necessary. But as just one example, why has the Ness bridge now got rows of bollards on both sides restricting traffic movement? What’s being achieved by that?
Yesterday a double-decker bus got jammed on the pavement on the junction of Castle Road/Haugh Road and View Place. Motorists were advised to find an alternative route until the vehicle could be moved. Yet more massive disruption. A new one-way system was introduced there for some obscure reason on Monday.
Traffic queues would be even worse if traffic was at normal levels. And for pedestrians, in some streets the chaos dogs their every move. High Street is so overwhelmed by scaffolding and barriers that there’s only a small channel of access through it.
The mountain of scaffolding will be in place for two more months I was told yesterday – effectively the rest of the summer and beyond. It’s for essential roofing repairs, but the timing couldn’t be worse.
Is this the way to attract shoppers back to the High Street?
Remember the ongoing furore over scaffolding in Eastgate which was unsightly but caused no other problems. How minor and irrelevant that seems compared with what’s there now.
The city centre chaos may be linked to some half baked, poorly thought out council notion to promote what it describes as active travel – more bikes, more “greening” and lower carbon emissions.
But that can’t be achieved overnight and shouldn’t be any kind of priority now. The absolute priority should be in attracting people back to shop and keep the precinct alive, but the bollards and barriers strewn everywhere and towering piles of scaffolding are having precisely the opposite effect.
Council officials seemingly making it up as they go along, and too many councillors standing by and watching it happen, while businesses in the city centre are liable to go bust as a result – it’s a formula for disaster.
One councillor who is concerned about the situation told Inverness news and views: “The look of the place is enough is to make you weep.”
Another told us: “These plastic things everywhere take up space which could be occupied by people and create dangerous pinch points. I’m sad and angry in equal measure. Who are they intent on punishing? This was a beautiful city.”
Explanations offered have been inadequate and some councillors, at least, will be calling for a rethink in a bid to at least try and reduce the level of unsightliness and street chaos.
Many people will say that can’t come soon enough.