Highlands & Islands

The only way is Essich

Asda has started work on its first store in the Highlands on a site within Highland Council's Inverness city ward of Ness-side.

Here the BBC News Scotland website looks at the area's influence on how Inverness will grow in the near future.

"You used to get the best tatties in Inverness from the farms that were once here," said a 71-year-old man sitting next to me on the bus home.

The number seven service from Inverness city centre to Culduthel was rolling through a pleasant 1970s era housing development as he said this.

Shaking his head, the man gestured with a hand and added: "Fifty years ago there were no Tarmac roads here. My grandchildren don't believe me when I tell them that."

He pressed the bell and stood up. "I missed my usual bus, but I think I can walk home from here," he said as he passed me and then made his way off the bus.

Standing on the pavement he looked a little lost.

In his lifetime the Invernessian must have witnessed huge changes to his hometown and some of the most rapid of that growth in the 10 years since Inverness was made a city in 2001.

The 2001 Census recorded a population of 66,576. Highland Council said it grew to 72,748 by 2008 and has projected the population to rise to 98,681 by 2033.

For Inverness to grow in the immediate future the only way is Essich - a south westerly direction and area covered by the council ward of Ness-side.

The ward has an estimated 10,207 residents with its main population centres being Hilton, Lochardil, Holm Mains, Drummond, Culduthel and Castle Heather.

In this area, a number of new housing developments have been completed recently, or are about to be finished, including new properties at Greenfields and Holm.

Between, 2006 and 210 there were 221 homes completed in Ness-side, the second highest number of completions in a city ward after Inverness Central's 250.

Highland Council's Local Plan has programmed for delivery of a further 408 homes for Ness-side by about 2014, second to Inverness West with 1,075.

Image caption A sign for a new housing development near Asda's site at Slackbuie

However, the growth goes beyond housing.

Two supermarkets are being built in the ward - an Asda at Slackbuie and a Tesco on the Dores road.

Major flood alleviation measures to offer protection to the wider city from flooding are also being constructed in Ness-side.

Some of that work has taken place off Essich Road.

There are also plans to upgrade the Southern Distributor Road and also to eventually link it up with the A82 trunk road across the River Ness.

Inverness Ness-side SNP councillor John Finnie said the projected growth in ward would bring both benefits and challenges.

He said: "There is a real need for additional housing and I hope a significant proportion of those new houses will be for rent or shared equity."

But he added: "The growth will place significant pressures on the infrastructure, and public services such as schooling."

Mr Finnie said because of public sector spending cuts controls would need to be placed on builders to make sure infrastructure was put in place ahead of housing and not the other way around as has been done in the past.

He added: "The completion of the Southern Distributor Road will be required and I hope the views of the public will be taken on board, not least the need to retain as much of our valuable open space in as possible.

"Most importantly, this scheduled growth must not damage the attractive environment of Ness-side."

'More popular'

Chartered surveyors Allied Souter and Jaffrey said that for much of the last decade developers have focused on east Inverness, but the firm expected the opening of the Asda and Tesco to revive interest in areas such as Lochardil and Holm.

Director Jeff Collins said: "We foresee the renaissance of the western suburbs of Inverness.

"Many years ago Lochardil was one of the city's most popular areas, but it has been superseded by newer developments at Inshes, Westhill and Cradlehall.

"I believe that the presence of two new supermarkets in the west of the city will realign that balance.

"The retailers will bring job opportunities and infrastructure investment, making the area more popular, particularly with families."

Most importantly, this scheduled growth must not damage the attractive environment of Ness-side."

Back at the bus stop, my fellow passenger was getting directions from a woman of similar age to him.

As the bus pulled away I saw she was kindly giving him directions, or maybe they were reminiscing how one time all the houses spread out before them were fields.

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