Long Term Issues of our Region’s Digital & Transport Connectivity Challenges Never off Agenda

Stewart Nicol, Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Business Comment for Inverness Courier 

Inverness Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to actively connecting and representing businesses across the Highlands to support their growth.  Most of my activity and energy over recent months has been focused on giving support to business and lobbying on their behalf in order to help them survive the severe and complex challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The longer term issues of our region’s digital and transport connectivity challenges are never off my agenda though, which is why I was pleased to accept the invitation to join the Stakeholder Panel which has been relaunched by Scotland’s Railway.  In joining this panel I will seek to give the Highlands a voice, but I will also be representing the business interests of the membership of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce network.

We have been charged with giving input on how the railway grows again after the pandemic, contributes to Scotland’s and the Highland’s economic recovery and how we decarbonise the railway.  All of these are immense issues, but also significant opportunities for the Highlands, particularly as we look at the benefits we will receive from decarbonisation, which will inevitably bring improved frequency and speed of services to the rest of Scotland.  I’m also firmly of the view that our region will play a key role in developing offshore wind and hydrogen fuel technology that could be used as the energy source for the whole of Scotland’s Railway!

More locally, it is great to see that we could at last have a new railway station open at Inverness Airport in two years time.  We also must see progress with the long awaited Inverness Railway Station refurbishment, which is so critical to the city centre redevelopment.  It is vital that all of us see this project as a major opportunity to revitalise our city-centre and establish a transport hub, rather than just another ‘railway project’!

Alex Hynes, Managing Director, Scotland’s Railway, in his welcoming remarks to the Panel commented that he was looking forward to our constructive engagement and called for each of us to think of ourselves as, ‘critical friends’.  As I reflect on my many comments and articles focused on the Highland’s rail connectivity challenges, over too many years, I may well just fit the bill.