Inverness City Centre Business Improvement District (Bid) is moving into its second decade with the launch of a new five-year plan it hopes will shape the commercial heart of the Highlands until 2023.
City centre businesses have until March 23 to vote on the proposals before they can be put into action – but according to Bid chairman Peter Strachan at least 94 per cent of Bid members responding to a previous survey have already said they are in favour of its work continuing.
"When we surveyed the businesses, there was quite a resounding feeling that we should continue the things we have been doing in terms of marketing and enhancing the city centre and ensuring it is safe and welcoming, but obviously we also want to look to the future and enhance the things people enjoy about the city centre," he said,
The wide-ranging report contains a series of aims and proposals aimed at making the area more attractive for shoppers and other visitors including making the current trial of 15 minutes free parking a permanent feature.
"It’s important for people to be able to access the city centre," Mr Strachan said.
"Businesses have seen a difference and that’s what’s important at the end of the day – that businesses in Inverness thrive and people find it easy to access the centre."
The plan also identifies both Inverness Castle and the Victorian Market as important in attracting increased footfall and commits to helping develop their potential.
"In both the market and the castle, we have an opportunity to give something of truly international significance," Mr Strachan said.
"If you look at the V&A in Dundee, that will be a truly international attraction. There is no reason why the castle should not be the same for Inverness."
However elsewhere Bid has drawn back from calls from some of its members to carry out a cull of gulls in the city centre, with a promise instead to continue its policy of egg and nest removal.
Mr Strachan, who is managing director of Caledonian Sleeper, acknowledged any cull would inevitably be controversial.
"I know from past experience there are as many people who say ‘that’s terrible’ as say ‘well done’. But I think we have struck a reasonable balance so far and want to continue that," he said.
This year marks a decade since the launch of Inverness Bid and Mr Strachan believes it has made an impact on the city centre.
"Because it is city centre focused, we can concentrate on being an advocate for local businesses. If you are a small trader, then having Bid as that back up voice is something people value," he said.
"I’m looking forward to the next five years and seeing these plans progress."
Linda Kirkland of pressure group Inverness City Centre Improvement has yet to see the plan, but voiced concerns that it might just offer more of the same rather than a bolder vision for the city centre.
"My impression is that they concentrate a lot on business as usual, the nitty-gritty stuff that they should be doing anyway," she suggested.
Scott Murray, managing director of Cru Holdings, which owns a number of bars and restaurants in the city centre, said he looked forward to reading the plan in detail and added: "The events organised by Inverness Bid such as the Classic Vehicle Show are great for us as they encourage visitors to the city centre."
Pat Hayden of Crown and City Centre Community Council questioned why Inverness could not follow the lead of cities like Dundee and undertake a cull of gulls, especially following reports that the gull problem is spreading beyond the city centre itself.
"There are also buildings in the centre of town with foliage growing out of them," she said. "Maybe these are things they should be tackling."
On a more positive note she welcomed the recent crackdown on anti-social behaviour.
Bookshop owner Charles Leakey was more sceptical about Bid’s achievements.
"Bid has been going for 10 years and there are very few visible signs of a revival of the town centre," he said.
"It’s very hard work in terms of internet shopping and the out-of-town retail competition.
"The question is has Bid prevented things from getting worse? I can’t see any signs that it has."The Inverness Courier7/2/18