Thank you to the APT member who has just sent me this is response to my post for ideas and comments:
It was interesting that when the HwLDP Main Issues Report was first put before the PED Committee back in August, one of the elected members from a NW Highlands constituency noted with concern the incorporation of the earlier Halcrow-drafted A96 Corridor Framework Plan into the new draft. He warned that the Council seemed to be "putting all their development eggs into the A96 Corridor basket". He noted that the bulk of the development opportunities, the proposal for a new town, the extensive designation of new land for housing, and the associated investment and infrastructure, were all targeted on the relatively small and already heavily-developed area stretching from East Inverness to Nairn.
Of course as a representative from North Highland, he might perhaps be expected to say that. But the Council planners' own accounts of the consultation-meetings around the Highlands suggest that he has put his finger on one aspect of the draft plans which finds an echo - in different ways - around the entire region.
The Council's reports of the public meetings around the Western and Northern Highlands reveal that there have been recurrent calls for a better balance. People at consultation meetings in Easter Ross, in Fort William, at Golspie, on Skye, and in Lochaber, have all questioned the emphasis on the Inner Moray Firth/A96 corridor and called on the Council to readjust its priorities. The HWLDP's own blog reports residents on Skye as saying that the plan "should not concentrate too much on Inverness and the A96 at the expense of the remoter areas of Highland."
At the same time one of the clear themes to emerge from the meetings held at centres within the A96 Corridor has been serious disquiet over the scale and density of new building and development proposed for this part of the region. The justification for a complete new town at Tornagrain has already been challenged repeatedly over the past few years. All along the so-called A96 Corridor the residents have begun to register, with alarm, the massive expansion in population and housing envisaged for the Inner Moray Firth. In Nairn, residents have expressed serious misgivings about plans which aim at doubling the size of Nairn's population within the next 30 years (and still with no firm timetable or funding commitment to a bypass - but that's another story). Some suspect that Nairn is to become an "overspill" town for people who have to be rehoused as a result of Inverness City's own riverside-redevelopment plans. The Council's wider aspiration of a total increase in the population of the region far in excess of even the government's official "high-migration" forecasts has raised serious concerns.
These views are in effect two sides of the same coin: the Inner Moray Firth worried about overdevelopment, and many other more peripheral areas of the Highlands afraid they are missing out on investment, growth and infrastructure.
The reaction of Council planners thus far has been to point out - quite accurately - that the pressure from developers is to build along the A96 Corridor. This is hardly surprising. The land is flat and accessible, which might enable a lot of high-density housing construction; and such development, especially if urged on by policies aimed at further expansion of services, employment and facilities in Inverness, will find a ready market and be extremely profitable.
But it does raise the question of whether the Council's plans are being shaped by the ambitions of developers rather than the interests of all the residents of the Highlands, and it casts some doubt on the Council's avowed mission "to create sustainable communities balancing population growth and economic development across the area".
Unsurprisingly, therefore, for different but complementary reasons, the consultation is producing calls from the public for the planners to rethink their "spatial strategy". The message is that the planners should look again at the location and scale of proposed development, and should explore other options for the expansion of Inverness. This might usefully include more decentralisation and dispersal of the administrative and economic activity currently concentrated in the city, in order to achieve a better balance.
The councillor who spoke in committee about eggs and baskets was both shrewd and prescient. It will be interesting to see how far the Council planning department takes this on board in the drafting of the new plan.