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Road surface and drainage improvement works to make the Black Parks Road in Fort William more accessible to walkers and cyclists are set to start on Monday.
The work is being conducted as part of the national ‘Spaces for People’ programme funded by the Scottish Government and managed nationally by Sustrans Scotland.
The Black Parks road improvements are aimed at encouraging the local community to continue walking and cycling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work on the road, which runs through land owned by Jahama Highland Estates, will restrict access between Inverlochy and the railway bridge over the River Lochy until July 19.
The route will be closed to vehicle-through-traffic while a diversionary path will maintain access for walkers and cyclists.
Road surfacing and drainage work is intended to be the first phase of the project designed to make the road more pedestrian and cycle-friendly, giving residents and visitors healthier and safer access to shops and local healthcare facilities.
Jahama Highland Estates has also applied for a temporary road closure order that would grant an extended period of 18 months to close the road for further work such as the installation of locking bollards to provide controlled closure points.
With public support, the aim is to turn the Black Parks road into a permanent cycling and walkway route barring all vehicular through route access apart from emergency services and utility companies.
Improvement works are also being planned for the footpath between Inverlochy and the shops on the A82, accessed via the railway bridge.
The Black Parks Road from where it leaves Inverlochy to the junction with the railway bridge over the River Lochy is a much loved Lochaber favourite and the route is used by cyclists, dog walkers and family groups with toddlers.
It is also a major route for school students cycling and walking to and from the High School and the pre-school toddlers accessing Stramash. The Black Parks road has seen a large increase in walkers and cyclists during the COVID-19 period.
Recently, a multi-stakeholder group has been meeting to discuss how the route can be made free of vehicular traffic so that residents from Fort William, Inverlochy, Caol and the surrounding areas may bike or walk along this section of road without meeting as many vehicles, as is currently the case.
The group consists of representatives from Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Jahama Highland Estates, Historic Environment Scotland, Fort William, Inverlochy and Torlundy Community Council, Hitrans/Sustrans and latterly the Highland Soap Company.
A spokesperson for the Highland Council ‘Spaces for People’ programme said: ‘It is great to see local organisations and communities pulling together to transform this key active travel route which will benefit both locals and visitors of all ages.
‘Active travel for utility and recreation purposes has never been as popular and this project will complement that and hopefully encourage more individuals and families to enjoy the benefits of walking and cycling.’
Julia Stoddart, chief operating officer of Jahama Highland Estates, added: ‘Our support for making the Black Parks road a walking and cycling route reflects the feedback we have received from local residents who want a safe and secure access route through Fort William.
‘This project complements our longer-term vision to utilise part of the estate’s property in this area for a community-based nature reserve to enhance local wellbeing.
‘With our new management strategy focusing on sustainability, Jahama Highland Estates is delighted to work collaboratively with local stakeholders to help facilitate projects that benefit both people and place.’
Scott Dingwall, head of regional development for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added: ‘Sustainable active travel is an important factor in our transition to an economy based on net-zero emissions.
‘The Fort William Active Travel Plan will form a local contribution to that transition. During the COVID-19 lockdown the use of the Black Parks road by walkers and cyclists has increased significantly. These works will help improve the safety of this active travel.’