by Colin Campbell
AFTER one of the hottest weeks on record, the level of anger and protest against the planned riverside Gathering Place may be beginning to burn out – but it’s got nothing to do with the weather. There are simply only so many ways you can say the same thing in response to the same absurdities repeated over and over again.
Gathering Place exhaustion – akin to heat exhaustion – begins to seep into your bones until you just want to crawl under a bed and get away from it all.
The latest twist in this utterly tortured saga comes with the revelation in the Inverness Courier that £108,000 has already been spent on preparation work for the Gathering Place, without a brick or stone being laid.
That, in itself, does not particularly surprise me. It takes money to hire Glasgow-based arts consultants for months on end to prepare a project like this. I thought the figure spent might be in the £60-70,000 range, and the fact that it has now gone over six figures is obviously not good.
But it is the reaction to it which makes you want to retreat into a darkened room and bang your head against the wall.
Some councillors, like Provost Helen Carmichael, are now claiming that because the money has been spent, the Gathering Place has to be built, or else it will be “money down the drain”.
In other words, they are trying to use their folly in squandering this money as a reason and excuse to go ahead and build the thing.
Nothing to do with the merit of the project, how it will look or how it will affect the appearance of the riverside.
Ms Carmichael is not arguing about any of that, and doesn’t even seem concerned about it. She said: “Those who would see the project overturned a second time (the first being the ludicrous tilting pier) at this stage should be aware of the financial and reputational risks involved and the considerable amount of public funds which would be down the drain.”
Reputational risks? What reputational risks? The provost should be aware that most people couldn’t give a damn about the council’s “reputation” in relation to the Gathering Place, which has sunk down to the level of plankton in any case.
Her biggest concern, in fact, seems to be that because they’ve stupidly spent £108,000, they’d look stupid if they didn’t carry on and stupidly spend even more.
How crazy does this saga have to get?
And what about the contribution from Tory group leader Andrew Jarvie, who has previously come out dead against the Gathering Place and presented himself as a champion in trying to save public money.
He said: “It could be that Highland Council is forced to proceed with this ‘too big to fail’ project based solely on the financial implications and not if it is a worthwhile project or not.” And he added: “It is a position I hate.”
In the name of Boris bloody Johnson, Andrew, if you “hate it” why don’t you say you’re not having it, you won’t accept it and will fight it all the way? How many other times when you “hate” things do you crumble and simply accept them? And if you routinely give in to things you “hate” how did you ever get to be Tory group leader on the council in the first place?
And as for the “too big to fail” assertion – we’re talking about a wall and concrete pathways here, not a space launch or the rebuilding of the twin towers.
But I’d agree that it’s time to turn up the fan, feel the waft of cool air, and for everyone – including me – to calm down.
There is no point in getting too upset about that lost £108,000 and the mistakes underlying it. There is no point in criticising, condemning or raging against.
There may come a time for inquests and inquiries but the priority now is not council blunders but the need to prevent the Gathering Place that no-one wants virtually being built by accident.
The 2,300 people who signed the protest petition against it did not do so to “have a go” at the council or because they’re solely focused on a waste of money. Their primary reason – as shown by comments left – was a desire to protect and preserve the riverside from being concreted over.
We know councils sometimes waste money – it’s in their DNA. And if £108,000 has been foolishly spent it’s regrettable – no doubt highly regrettable – but it’s not going to keep any member of the public awake at night.
And, bending over backwards to be sympathetic, we all make mistakes and we don’t always get it right. People will take the loss and move on – if Helen Carmichael and others abandon their stance that the Gathering Place now has to be built or else “it’s money down the drain”.
After months in which Inverness news and views has followed every twist and turn of this wretched affair, surely we can now expect nothing other than a sensible and rational conclusion which will lead to the matter being resolved.
Councillors should acknowledge the level of public opposition to the Gathering Place, accept the loss (it’s not coming out of their pockets) and shelve the project. It’s clear that it has virtually no support among councillors themselves and, like Helen Carmichael, they are only worried about the image of “money being seen to go down the drain”.
Forget about that, budget for any relatively small repayments which have to be made – and next item, please.
There will be no crowing from Gathering Place opponents if it’s dropped, no gloating, no finger-jabbing mockery.
On the contrary I believe a decision to protect and preserve the riverside in its present glorious, unspoilt condition would win far more plaudits for councillors and would completely overshadow any concerns about some money lost. There would be no winners and losers on this issue – just many, many people greatly relieved that it was all over and need never be mentioned again.