Action Still Needed To Transform City Centre

Stewart Nicol, Chief Executive, Inverness Chamber of Commerce

Approaching the peak of the tourist season in Inverness provides us both with a reality check on how far we still have to go, but also a feeling of encouragement about the progress we are making.

A regular challenge has been meeting demand for hotel beds in the city, with talk recently of a major accommodation ‘crisis’ and rooms almost sold out.

Summer concerts and other events have the centre buzzing most weekends which is great to see and gives us a glimpse of what more could be achieved if various plans and developments come to fruition.

As I write, the Ness Walk riverside hotel, being built by the Kingsmills Hotel, is nearing completion which will make more quality accommodation available and also add to the attractiveness of the river area which we should make more of.

Other hotels are planned at the airport, at the Inverness Campus and the busy end of Church Street. These are all welcome and positive additions to Inverness and will give visitors a variety of accommodation options.

However, at the same time, it is proposed development in the Old Town that offers the most exciting prospect. This is because a part of the city centre which has been neglected in the past is now the focus of commercial interest that hopefully means new life is about to be breathed into an area showing signs of re-awakening.

The most recent plan has come from hotel management and development company Axcel Hospitality which has earmarked a redundant four-storey office block in Church Street for a hotel. Another company SRP wants to develop a hotel in Rose Street and there are long-delayed plans for yet another hotel in Glebe Street.

Add to this, the major works in Academy Street that will see new pubs, restaurants shops and residential units built to complement those well-established and more recent businesses and an attractive picture is starting to emerge.

That whole area bordered by Church Street and Academy Street now offers the chance for Inverness to emulate other city centres in having a vibrant concentration of quality hospitality and food and drink outlets. It will help keep people and spending in the centre, which helps feed other businesses and also creates jobs and encourages further inward investment.

So, the commercial interest is undoubtedly gaining momentum, and there has been some great work done by the Inverness Townscape Heritage Project and others to get us this far. Now we need the public sector to move from consultation to action and ensure the centre is ready for this transformation.

It won’t come soon enough for this year’s tourists, but those visiting in future will experience a different Inverness city centre, as will its residents and businesses.