The recently announced multi-million-pound Inverness city-region deal is proof that all that “glisters isn’t gold”, it has been claimed.
The deal pledges to inject £315 million into the region’s economy over the next ten years, but the wide-ranging scheme attracted criticism for failing to support the rural west Highlands when it came under discussion at a recent meeting of full Highland Council last Thursday.
At the meeting it emerged that plans for a new airport in Skye were left out of the deal, in favour of another major roads project in Inverness.
As part of the funding package, the Scottish Government will commit up to £135 million; The United Kingdom Government £53 million and the Highland Council and regional partners up to £127 million towards a number of different schemes.
But, some councillors have questioned if the deal will bring benefit to areas outside the immediate vicinity of Inverness.
Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter worried there would be little for those on the west coast to be enthused about.
He said: “It doesn’t look so fantastic when you get more than 30 miles away from Inverness.
“Digital connectivity is important, but it isn’t the only thing we want to see in our rural areas. I’m beginning to think that all that glisters is not gold.”
The deal pledges an ambition to make the Highlands the ‘most digitally connected rural region in Europe’, and there are promises to expand superfast broadband and 4G mobile phone coverage throughout the area.
Campaigners hoping to see the return of regular flight services to and from Skye were left disappointed by the terms of the Inverness City-Region deal.
Sabhal Mòr Ostaig principal Boyd Robertson, a director of campaign group FlySkye and the Sleat Transport Forum, believed it would now take a major regional initiative to improve the entire transport infrastructure on the west coast.
He said: “Investment is urgently needed in roads such as the A890 Auchtertyre-Achnasheen route and the A82 arterial route to Glasgow and in rail and ferry infrastructure and services as well as in air services.
“What is needed now is a major initiative for rural areas of Scotland that will enable communities such as here in Skye to influence public policy and to secure transport facilities and services fit for the 21st century.”
Stuart Black, the council’s director of development and infrastructure, said the Skye airport plan could not demonstrate wider benefits beyond Skye.
Council leader Margaret Davidson has encouraged rural parts of the Highlands to make their voice heard, and to grasp the opportunities the deal could offer.
She said: “This is about business confidence. In a country where we are not sure if we are in or out of Europe in six weeks’ time, we at least have the certainty of investment in the Highland region for the next ten years.”