City-Region Deal: an idea and ambition for our region

£315 million City-Region Deal has been a topic of many discussions between friends, colleagues and businesses

Recently in Coffee Affair – one of my favourite haunts, I was discussing our City-Region Deal with Father Andre, (priest for the Romanian community in the north of Scotland) when another patron of the coffee shop, Mary asked could she join our table. In typical Inverness fashion, a conversation between two then became one between three people. It is one of my favourite things about Highland folk, nobody is afraid to join in, nobody minds if you do – and everybody has an opinion.

The £315 million City-Region Deal has certainly been a topic of many discussions between friends, colleagues and businesses since the announcement was made. As it should be, it will impact every one of us.

As you will recall, it was in this very paper, back in the summer of 2014, that I first raised the idea of a £300m City-Region Deal for Inverness. It has been quite a journey since that time. I was, then, leader of Highland Council and represented Inverness at the Scottish Cities alliance where the big topic of discussion was the Glasgow City Deal. I recall thinking if Glasgow can get a deal then why not us? Surely, Europe’s fastest-growing city should too, have a transformational investment that allows us to plan for growth, not just react as has been the case in the past.

Armed with an idea and ambition for our region, I first met with the Scottish Government, then with the support of the Scottish Cities Alliance, we wrote to the Prime Minister to seek UK Government support. A lot has happened since, countless meetings, letters, parliamentary questions and the not inconsiderable task of getting people together from across the political divide. Thanks must go to all who have got behind the idea and worked to support it.

Indeed, the plan submitted by Highland Council was very compelling and our special thanks must go to Stuart Black and his team for their work in creating it. It is also important to acknowledge the support given by Councillors Thomas Prag and then Audrey Sinclair as Chairs of Planning and Development and the current Council Leader, Margaret Davidson.

I know we all shared in the delight of seeing the Scottish Government Minister, Keith Brown and UK Government minister, Lord Dunlop sign the deal. The deal is made up of £135M from the Scottish Government, £127M of Highland Council capital funding and £53m from the UK Government. This investment will ensure that Inverness and region benefit from improved infrastructure, connectivity, jobs and housing.

It will also be fantastic to see our ambition for Inverness Castle realised. My friend and colleague Fergus Ewing, as Chair of the Castle Working Group, has done much to make this a reality. There are many projects that divide opinion but seeing the castle open for business will, I know, please many of the people who live and work here.

I think back to that chat with Father Andre and Mary in coffee affair and recall that our discussion moved on to other planned Council projects not associated with the City Deal – some of which do divide opinions such as the museum and the one on River Ness. Mary was steadfast in her position against both but it is what she said next that I think reflects the best of people here – “Mind you” she said, “I was also against the flood scheme and the walls on the River at the time but, I was wrong, it looks beautiful now, I’m so glad it’s done”.

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