If you’re interested in the controversy over the Inverness West Link, since writing this post I have worked with others to set up the Save Canal Park campaign website. There’s plenty up to date information there.
You may remember I wrote a few posts earlier last year on the topic of the Inverness West Link – the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Inverness’s peripheral road connecting the A9 and A96 with the A82.
To recap briefly (and for a fuller explanation read these blog posts in chronological order), I’d left you at the point whereby I’d been ignored by most of my councillors but finally referred by my MSP to the relevant member of council staff. I’d emailed him, got an out of office reply (he was on holiday), and I forgot about it.
The specifics of what I’d written about were two of the key options for completing the bypass:
Option 6 – This option involved running the road through the beautiful Canal Park, one of Inverness’s biggest and best green spaces, and necessitating the removal of various sporting facilities. This was the option the council voted for in 2012. It was claimed by Highland Council to be just £27m, but the problem as I saw it was that there was an unknown figure to add to this to cover the cost of proposed new sports facilities that the council would introduce as compensation for those facilities lost. What was this extra cost?
Option 7 – This option was a simple, though admittedly more expensive, high-level bridge that did not involve destroying any parkland or sports facilities. It was by far and away the most popular option among the people of Inverness. It cost £68m. My problem, however, was that it also included an extra and arguably unnecessary second swing bridge at Tomnahurich. If that was removed from the assessment, what would option 7 (the big bridge connection alone) really cost?
Given the questions I wanted to ask about each option, I was concerned that the assessment of £27m versus £68m was simply not an accurate reflection.
The answers, thanks to the genuinely helpful council official, are found in the following extract from his email to me in July 2012:
1. The cost of option 6 at £27.22m includes land and accommodation works costs. These land and accommodation works costs include for relocating sporting facilities where there is an impact arising from the project. This is on an equivalence basis of replacing like for like. For example where 4 holes of the golf course are affected then 4 new holes will be provided. However the Council when they approved option 6 asked officials to consider and look at enhancing the sporting and leisure facilities in the Torvean and Ness-side area. Part of this is relocating the entire golf course to the north side of the A82 trunk road such that golfer would no longer have to cross the trunk road. This is something that the planning department intend developing by holding a Charrette with all interested parties and stakeholders in early September. The Charrette will look at the big picture and the opportunities for land use enhancements in the area such that this will provide added benefit to the members and users of sporting and leisure organisations that currently operate in this area.
2. Option 7 as you say is costed at £67.75m . The tandem canal bridges layout which is included in this project has been costed at £11.2m and is part of these costs.
Hopefully this is quite clear, but let me summarise it anyway: option 6 contained unknown extra costs for sporting facilities in Torvean and Ness-side that had not yet been finalised as they were dependent on a consultation. Meanwhile option 7 is actually £11.2m higher than it fundamentally needs to be.
This means that what we were told was a choice between £27.22m and £67.75m, has actually transpired to be a choice between some unknown sum greater than £27.22 or a sum of £56.55m.
The gap of a good £40m between the two options is now, at the very most, a gap of £29m, and probably much less than that due to the unknown sporting facilties costs.
The consequences of this are massive. Basically it means that councillors were lied to (or didn’t investigate, ask or identify the true costs involved), and that the council has lied to the people by feeding us these false figures of £27m and £67m when it was actually £27m or more versus just £56.55m. This is either a dangerous falsehood on the part of the council or, at worst, a spectacular error.
Given that this deception is coming alongside the destruction of lovely green space in our already carelessly developed city, the anger people will feel is understandable. Yes, option 7 involves millions of pounds more, and yes it is a lot of money at a time of austerity. However the important point is that the millions of pounds gap between the two options is not as big as we were first led to believe, and still does not justify the destruction of Canal Park.
Indeed, many people from what I’ve read are of the opinion that until the shortfall can be found that would allow option 7 to be implemented, actually not doing anything at all and leaving the peripheral road incomplete in the short term is a better way forward than building option 6. In other words, option 6 is so awful that even doing nothing to solve the traffic flow problems represents a better way forward.
Now, when I got the email from the council official in July, I should have blogged all this straight away. However, I forgot, I was busy, I was then on holiday myself… and gradually it all slipped my mind.
I was motivated to return to it all just recently, however, by an online petition I was alerted to, aiming to get as many people behind the prevention of option 6 as possible. The number of signatories is currently approaching one thousand. The organiser of the petition sent an email around to all signatories the other day, saying (among other things):
In April the council will submit a planning application and I hope that at that time many of us will submit objections. If anyone has experience of planning matters perhaps they would be kind enough to contact me and we could share any insights or advice around this group.
So, what can you do? Well, if this affects you and you are in the Inverness area, you could…
- Sign the petition, and share it with your friends in the area and encourage them to sign it too.
- Do as the organiser suggests and watch out for the planning application in order to object to it.
- Get in touch with the organiser, via the petition link, to offer any help you can.
- Write to your local members of the Highland Council, especially those who were newly elected last year and were not party to the vote taken to go ahead with option 6, telling them that the figures used to inform the vote were false.
As I think I said in a previous post on this matter, I’m not much of a militant when it comes to getting involved in local campaigns. But there is a lot at stake here. Fingers crossed that democracy, common sense and environmental concern prevails.