by Colin Campbell
“McCaig’s Folly” in Oban. “Mackenzie’s Folly” on the Inverness riverside. That has a good and justified ring to it for me. It was an Inverness councillor strongly opposed to the £300,000 Gathering Place who yesterday emailed me the suggestion that one folly deserves another, and that the name of Arts group chairman Isabelle Mackenzie was a suitable candidate for inclusion in Gathering Place folklore.
But I’m not passing the “Mackenzie’s Folly” buck to him. It’s a designation with which I fully and unreservedly agree.
Isabelle Mackenzie has been the driving force behind plans to concrete over the idyllic stretch of riverside intended to be the location for the Gathering Place.
Of all the councillors I’ve spoken to about this, she came across as by far the most arrogant and dismissive of opposition to the scheme, offering up not a shred of compromise or acknowledgement that many people had serious doubts about it.
Admittedly, this was before the council was presented with a 2,300 strong petition of people opposing it.
But I very, very much doubt that that has changed her view.
Provost Helen Carmichael recently expressed regret that it was Isabelle Mackenzie and other members of her tiny little arts clique who were having to bear the public and internal attacks over the scheme.
If they wanted to avoid virulent criticism they should have thought twice about trying to force through a scheme which will ruin a stretch of our cherished riverside – after turning it into a fenced off building site for months.
It’s still not too late for the Arts group chairman to change her stance on the issue. But don’t hold your breath.
Gloriously sunny weather like we’ve had over the past few days shines a light on the madness of the Gathering Place more than at any other time.
Sitting on a bench at the location yesterday I wondered: Are those behind it insane?
In normal circumstances, I’m sure they’re fully functioning members of society.
But with regard to the Gathering Place, do they merit a day or two in a padded cell?
Here we have, bathed in warm sunshine, one of the most idyllic settings imaginable.
Trees, shrubbery, grass, wildlife and the river flowing serenely by.
But Mackenzie, Carmichael and the tiniest handful of others want to rip all this apart to build a wall and concrete pathways there, claiming it will “enhance its natural beauty”.
And at a cost of £300,000 – much of it Inverness Common Good and Highland Council money – at a time of council cuts, cuts and more cuts.
I’m not suggesting these people are actually insane. No, I’m not suggesting that.
But with regard to this one issue – the Gathering Place – how thick should be those padded cell walls be?
Yesterday Inverness news and views headlined the fact that a member of the public – just one – has now publicly expressed support for the project.
He’s the first, the very first, and if that didn’t deserve to be headline news, I don’t know what does.
We’ve already headlined the fact that 2,300 people have signed the petition against it. It’s only fair to record the earth-shattering news that one person has now come out in support of it.
But still they unwaveringly intend to press ahead, in the face of an onslaught of public anger and opposition. If you think strong criticism has been made of the Gathering Place here, you should read some of the comments attached to the protest petition.
There’s a long-standing convention that councillors should not be subjected to personal attacks, firstly because they’ve had the guts to stand for office and gain election, and secondly because it should be accepted that – whatever they get right or wrong – their hearts are in the right place and they’re doing their best to improve life for people in Inverness.
I’ve long accepted that principle during the 44 years I’ve been covering public affairs in Inverness as a journalist.
But the Gathering Place travesty is in a league of its own and has tested it above and beyond the limit.
If a tiny handful of councillors are prepared to ruin part of the riverside forever to satisfy their egos, they have strayed outwith the bounds of normal convention. They have simply gone too far. And they have pushed people too far.
Sitting in the riverside sunshine there yesterday I felt yet another surge of anger at what’s planned for this beautiful, natural, unspoilt location which has been enjoyed by Invernessians for generations and should be left exactly as it is.
The fencing and the drilling and the heavy machinery tearing it apart – to build a wall and concrete pathways that no one who knows anyone who knows anyone actually wants. At a cost of £300,000. All for no sane reason.
And all topped off by the outright contempt shown for public opinion and the power-hunger of a tiny clique hell-bent on seeing it through at all or any cost.
So if it’s built shouldn’t the Gathering Place be branded “Mackenzie’s Folly”? Isabelle Mackenzie looks the most likely candidate for riverside immortality at the moment but other people may have ideas for others it could be named after.
One thing, however, is certain. If this unprecedented travesty – the worst I can ever remember – does go ahead, someone sure as hell, explicitly and enduringly, should achieve legendary status, for all the wrong reasons, as a result of it.