by Colin Campbell
THE Gathering Place in Inverness is planned to go ahead with the publicly expressed support of just nine people. Ranged against that are more than 2,200 who have signed a protest petition opposing it.This means that for every person backing the Gathering Place, there are 270 against it.
This is the most controversial scheme ever planned for the Inverness riverside.
And this is what passes for democracy in the Highland Capital in 2019.
That is a shocking indictment of the power that can be seized by a handful of people determined to impose their will on the majority.
So it’s nine against the masses – and as of now the nine are winning.
Forget the hyperbole, forget the sound and fury.
In this gloriously sunny spell of weather which shows the riverside at the Ness Islands at its beautiful, natural, unspoilt finest, these are the cold, hard facts.
Only four members of Highland Council have spoken out in favour of the project since it was revealed that it had been approved behind closed doors by unelected officials. They are Provost Helen Carmichael, Arts group chairman Isabelle (‘Mackenzie’s Folly’) Mackenzie, and Graham Ross and Carolyn Caddick.
That’s it – just four.
Of the remainder, Ron MacWilliam, Bill Boyd, Andrew Jarvie, Emma Knox, Ken Gowans, Roddy Balfour, Glynis Sinclair and Janet Campbell have expressed strident opposition to the Gathering Place and the way it’s been handled.
The deputy leader of the council, Alasdair Christie, has said there should be further talks leading to “compromise”, but nothing whatever has come of that.
And what of the others who were elected to represent the views of the Inverness public? They, including former provosts Alex Graham and Jimmy Gray, have said nothing whatever about a £300,000 scheme that will alter the appearance of the riverside forever. .
Who else has publicly expressed support? Former councillor Thomas Prag and one member of the public, Donald Macleod.
That raises the total to six.
Add in the three other members of the Inverness Arts working group and that brings it up to nine.
If ANYONE else has publicly expressed support for the plan since the revelation that it had been secretly approved by officials we’ve missed it – and we don’t believe we’ve missed anything.
So if the Gathering Place has NINE public supporters, what of its opponents.
Helen Smith of Ballifeary Community Council at the beginning of the month handed in to Highland Council a petition opposing the Gathering Place signed by 2,294 people. And that number is still rising.
At a packed public meeting in the Spectrum Centre, there was unanimous condemnation of the scheme, with Thomas Prag being the only person present speaking out in favour of it.
And at a “picnic protest” at the location on Easter Monday people were queuing up to sign up and add their opposition to the proposal to turn the idyllic location into an extended building site for a wall and concrete pathways to be built there.
This, according to the initial council press release, will “enhance its natural beauty”.
A view held by NINE people.
Provost Carmichael refused to meet the petition organisers on the grounds that they were an “unconstituted” group.
Isabelle Mackenzie appears as determined as ever that the scheme will go ahead.
The riverside-ruining £300,000 Gathering Place, according to them, will be built come hell or high water, regardless of what people think of it.
Dell McClurg of Merkinch Community Council, reminded me of the council approach to the tilting pier.
It was bounced up and down the riverside because no-one outside a tiny clique wanted it built anywhere near them.
So at last they tried to foist it on the good folk of the Merkinch.
Ms McClurg said: “They seemed to think that the Merkinch would accept anything. That we’d be grateful for any crumbs they would offer. Well we soon put that right and told them what they could do with their ridiculous tilting pier.”
That attitude is as relevant now as it was then, and it speaks volumes about the level of contempt for public opinion in Inverness.
The 270-1 ratio of public opinion against the development is not conjecture or speculation.
That’s the hard and fast Gathering Place arithmetic.
And still they’re determined it will go ahead.
The weight of opposition against this travesty ensures there’s a long way to go yet.
However – if one more member of the public writes in support of the Gathering Place to the Inverness Courier or any other paper the number of people publicly backing it will actually reach DOUBLE FIGURES.