Should Thurso benefit from social distancing paths too?
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A DRAFT proposal showing that Highland Council earmarked Wick as an area where new "social distancing" paths and cycleways could be developed has drawn criticism from community representatives in Thurso.
Over the coming weeks, towns across the region, along with the city of Inverness, will see a roll-out of temporary walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure along priority routes as a response to the coronavirus crisis.
These active travel measures will ensure that people can move safely on essential journeys and while taking daily exercise.
The council has been awarded £752,954 from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People fund and intends to develop cycle and walking paths in Wick.
The Caithness civic leader, Councillor Willie Mackay, said that he hoped constituents would give feedback on the proposals for Wick but also wished to see similar developments in rural areas of the county.
Highland councillor Karl Rosie (Thurso and Northwest Caithness) said: “I absolutely agree with Councillor Willie Mackay’s comments and we need to adopt a strategic view for the entire county in order to develop a network that everyone can benefit from.
"Active travel can play a very significant role in re-stimulating our local economy while providing the obvious health benefits.”
Councillor Rosie said that when he was elected in 2017 he made a commitment, along with fellow ward councillors, to work together in order "to realise the best opportunities" for the area.
"Frustratingly, I don’t think that has happened. This is the perfect time to renew that commitment and to focus on what we can actually start delivering for the people in our ward,” he said.
Councillor Struan Mackie, who represents the same Highland Council ward, was dismayed that Inverness and its immediate surroundings seemed to be the main priority of the plan.
"The intensive interventions in and around Inverness are in complete contrast to the piecemeal offerings for the rest of Highland," he said.
"Wick, for example, which has been included last, only has one route in totality.
"Contrast this with the 22 substantive changes proposed for the Highland capital, and it does not feel like a balanced application to benefit as much of the region as possible."
He also alleged a lack of transparency from Highland Council who "never asked" for the ward councillors' opinions prior to the submission to Scottish Government for funds.
"I am totally convinced that across Caithness there would be deserving modifications to help with social distancing, in addition to the small programme in Wick," Councillor Mackie added.
He also felt that residents in Sutherland have good reason to be "deeply aggrieved" with not a single intervention planned anywhere in that county.
Former community councillor Alexander Glasgow – now a self-styled community activist – said that an "ideal opportunity" had been lost for Thurso.
He questioned why no prior information on the plan had been shared with local representatives and groups.
"I am reliably informed that Inverness councillors and even Highland Council officers were aware of and working on a detailed submission for it [the plan] well in advance," Mr Glasgow said.
"Inevitably a detailed plan for Inverness is there, followed by Aviemore, Dingwall, Nairn, Fort William, Portree and Wick [but] nowhere else in Caithness.
"This looks like a repeat of the paltry amount Caithness received from the city deal."
Mr Glasgow thinks that the riverside walk in Halkirk was one area that would especially benefit from social distancing redevelopment."
In Thurso, he said that pathways could be temporarily widened especially around schools, route signage installed, and road markings painted.
"In fairness, whereas Thurso has two wide main thoroughfares, Wick's A99 is a tight, steep bottleneck so it makes sense that was included."
Councillor Matthew Reiss (Thurso and Northwest Caithness) said that he felt there was probably more need for the active travel initiative in Wick.
He said: "In Thurso we have quite wide streets with plenty of wind blowing through them whereas in Wick, with its narrower streets, there's more potential to do something like this.
"However, if we look at widening the entrances to schools and working on the path at Victoria Walk, for example, a small amount of money could go a long way."
Contrary to Struan Mackie's experience, Councillor Reiss admitted to having some foreknowledge that Highland Council received the development funding.