A fantasy metro map for Inverness

Nessie: more likely than this metro network. Image: Getty.

Inverness is a funny sort of place. It’s small, as cities go, but is the largest settlement for over a hundred miles in any direction. As such, it sits in nobody’s shadow and punches above most similarly sized places in Britain, with surprisingly good facilities, international air links and the headquarters of a number of important regional and national bodies. A few years back, it was described as the fastest growing city in Europe – though how you measure that, nobody ever quite seemed to know.

And exactly how big is Inverness? Well, that’s another curiosity. There is no entity that covers just the city, with all past and current political boundaries also taking in various swathes of rural Highlands. Administratively speaking, therefore, there is simply no such place.

The result of all that for Inverness is a compact and congested city centre, and a seemingly endless sprawl of very low-density districts and suburbs that are still stretching outwards as we speak. With public transport not keeping pace with that rapid expansion, and the city characterised by a number of wide arterial roads ill-served by either buses or cycle paths, Inverness is surely an ideal candidate for an over-imagined light rail network.

What I am calling the “Iarann” (the Gaelic for “iron” – as in “iron road” – and a near acronym for Inverness Area Rail Network) would have ten lines. They would be built with not only business and commuters in mind but also Inverness’s role as a major centre for tourism; with famous lochs, castles, golf courses and Outlander sites all within day trip distances of the city.

Click to expand.

Some of the lines are based on existing rail connections. Inverness boasts routes running east to Nairn and then Aberdeen; south to Aviemore and ultimately Glasgow and Edinburgh; and north to Dingwall and onwards to Kyle of Lochalsh, Thurso and Wick. By using current stations on those lines, plus a number of new and reopened stops, we can ensure that surrounding villages and suburbs, plus crucially the airport, can be well served.

Meanwhile other new lines would be more typical urban tram services, fanning out from the centre along main roads to serve residential areas, major centres of employment, business and public services, and even small villages where park and rides could tempt traffic away from busy and winding country roads.


One of these new lines is a circle which, importantly, allows people to avoid the city centre if they do not need to be there. As is common in towns and cities, Inverness’s public transport nearly always involves connecting in the centre – yet with so many people living and working near its outskirts, there could be real value in ensuring that they can use public transport not just to go into the city but round it too.

The Capital of the Highlands has so much to offer, nestled between mountains and sea, and with a booming tourism industry, beautiful river, rich cultural scene and excellent nightlife. And perhaps now, it could also be known for the country’s most unnecessarily expansive tram network.

Inverness may not technically exist, but at least you can now imagine navigating it with ease.

Simon Varwell is a travel writer based in Inverness. His third book charts his week-long train journey from Inverness to Edinburgh stopping at every station along the way.

 
 
 
 

Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.


There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.