Street design in Inverness: the future of Academy Street
A study aimed at generating new street design proposals for Academy Street in Inverness based on the Scottish Government’s Designing Streets guidance and integrating these with a Townscape Heritage Project for the area to produce a substantially improved environment for pedestrians and a better trading environment for businesses combined with historic building upgrades and an improved setting for the station.
In September 2015 it was announced that the Townscape Heritage Project had been successful in securing Heritage Lottery Funding. The project has secured funding from Highland Council (£725,000) and Historic Scotland via the Inverness City Heritage Trust (ICHT) (£946,000) together with a confirmed Heritage Lottery contribution of £1,495,000 brings the total pot of funding for investment on Academy Street to just over £3million.
This work was commissioned by The Highland Council as part of a study undertaken by Makar Architects and Alan Marshall Architect on a Townscape Heritage Project for Academy Street. This placemaking study covers a wider area than the TH Project.
Highland Council has invested heavily in the public realm of Inverness city centre over the past decade. High Street, Hamilton Street, Inglis Street and part of Church Street have been pedestrianised while Union Street, Queensgate and the north western part of Church Street have been the subject of public realm improvements which have provided a better pedestrian environment while retaining vehicular access.
Academy Street is the remaining principal street in the city centre which has not received any investment in the public realm. Our study sets out a strategy for the reconfiguration of the street based on the Scottish Government’s Designing Streets guidance while also reflecting best practice from examples in England and the European mainland, especially Netherlands and Germany.
While Academy Street is the main focus of improvement proposals, areas to the north around Farraline Park, Inverness Railway Station and Falcon Square and the interface with the Eastgate Centre were also considered, as was Chapel Street as it represents an important approach to Academy Street.
Academy Street is an important access route to the city centre and its business and retail core. It is a reasonably wide street – almost 12m wide in places – but has effectively one lane in each direction with additional space for turning lanes, parking, bus stops and loading bays. It has four signal controlled junctions and/or pedestrian crossings. Footways tend to be narrow – sometimes as narrow as 1.5m. The street is congested at certain times but very quiet at other times.
These are the basic characteristics of the street as a traffic artery but for pedestrians, the environmental quality of the street is very poor. The quality of buildings along the street is varied – there are important historic buildings but there are also scruffy older buildings of limited interest and recent buildings of little merit. Nevertheless, the street has the potential to be a much more pleasant place along which to walk or linger. Equally, it could have a much better trading environment for businesses.
The Priority Buildings identified through the TH Project represent a core of potential improvements which could change the perception of the street. In particular, Station Square is important in architectural terms and is also a major gateway to the city and its centre. The priority buildings could also represent the starting point for public realm improvements aimed at making substantial positive changes to the setting of these important structures.
Inverness Railway Station itself is the subject of developing proposals by HITRANS, Abellio and Network Rail and apart from operational improvements, there is a desire to improve the Station for passengers. While the internal station concourse is outwith the scope of this study, the means of access from Station Square and the west and east entrances all require significant change and should be an integral part of the overall Station improvement proposals.
To the north of Academy Street, Margaret Street and Strothers Lane lead to Farraline Park and Inverness Bus Station. In terms of environmental quality and pedestrian environment, this area is very poor quality with little merit except in individual buildings, especially the Public Library. Improvements in this area require more than tinkering with the physical environment. Instead, a more holistic approach which looks at activity, land use and the economy of the area is required. A new development structure, improved linkages and better range of land uses should be starting points.
An approach to change
The preferred approach has been to develop proposals for Academy Street and areas to the north of the street as an integrated package of measures which share the same approach rather than a series of discrete measures.
The overall concept has been to develop an environment in which pedestrians have priority not only in their relationship with traffic but also with economic activity, land use and facilities. People are drawn to areas where there is activity and where the public realm works for businesses and the providers of public services. The proposals therefore seek to establish an active civic realm throughout the study area. The key characteristics of proposals for Academy Street include:
- creating a low-speed environment
- lower vehicle speeds but with a steady flow
- no signal controlled junctions or pedestrian crossings
- a substantially improved trading environment
- multiple pedestrian crossing points
- a single narrow lane in either direction with median strip
- potential for trees and lighting in a median strip
- a generous pedestrian environment with wider footways especially around priority buildings
- provision for bus stops, taxi rank, limited parking and loading
Proposals have been prepared for the following focus areas:
- Academy Street – general concept
- Station Square and the east and west entrances to the Inverness Station
- Ironworks – Academy Street, Chapel Street and Friars lane junction
- Farraline Park and the Bus Station
- Chapel Street and Chapel Yard Cemetery