Wednesday 1 June, 2005

I was fascinatinated to read this article on BBC news online about a new town planned for the Highlands.The city of Inverness has been growing rapidly in recent years. It's all part of the supposed Highland Renaissance, where there is a growing strength in highland culture, the local economy, and the general atmosphere of the region. 2007 is earmarked as the Year of Highland Culture and is the year that those nice people who pay my salary aim to become a University.

Quite what is fuelling this growth is unclear – there are no major private sector companies relocating here, no areas of local industry that are booming for any discernable reason, and no particularly convincing explanation as to why the Highlands is suddenly the "place to be" all of a sudden.

I can only assume it's something to do with the fact that I now live here. It's certainly not the fine weather or liberal licensing laws…

Anyway, whatever it is that is making Inverness so high profile, it is sending the housing market booming and bringing all sorts of new shops into the city centre. The population of around 60,000 is growing rapidly (an estimated 30,000 more in the next 30 years) with people relocating from all over the country and beyond, and the local football team has reached the top flight and stayed there beyond all expectations this season. There is a real confidence in the town. Sorry, city.

To cope with the boom there are now plans, it seems from the above article, for a new town – provisionally called Castle Stuart – which will be located in between Inverness and Nairn near the airport on the so-called A96 corridor. This is an area that is ripe for development, with new houses, new industrial estates and a possible new university campus planned, with aspirations to dual-carriageway the main road and install at least two new railway stations en route. Inverness's centre of gravity is shifting east along this corridor, and the city is spreading not so slowly-but-surely.

It has just occurred to me that there will soon be a name given to the conurbation to succeed the rather bland "A96 corridor". I'd therefore like to get bagsies on the term "the Northern Belt".

Give it a few years, but remember – you heard it here first!

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