Music venue to be replaced by £200 a night hotel

SO the music is set to die at the Ironworks venue in Inverness. Another “victim” of Brexit, as some would see it, and of which there’s no doubt. The building which occupies a prime site in Academy Street will be replaced by a 180-bed hotel. And what other than Brexit can explain the literally overwhelming influx of foreign visitors we’ve seen in Inverness and the Highlands, and has left some wandering the streets after midnight unable to find anywhere to sleep?

 The Brexit-fuelled falling value of the pound makes Brits wince when they venture abroad but it mean we’re a bargain basement attraction for tourists from across the channel and across the globe.

 No wonder hotel chains – anticipating the trend will continue and grow – are targeting the Highland capital as a money-making goldmine as never before.

 How can a music venue like the Ironworks holding events charging entry at £20-30 a time compare with a planned hotel which will be able to request 10 times that amount for a room for the night. And will get it.

 There were so many foreign accents in Inverness last weekend as to make it a passable impersonation of a continental city.

 When tourism figures for this year are collated 2019 must go down as a record-breaker.

 And in case newspaper reports of what seem to us extraordinarily high prices being charged by city hotels are viewed by some as being exaggerated, they are not.

 Night after night calls flow between fully booked hotels for information on any rooms which might be available at others.

 And I also know that most times they draw a blank.

 The Belladrum festival put added pressure on city accommodation last weekend but last Saturday well after midnight disconsolate and disgruntled tourists were still searching around for somewhere to stay. And that’s far from being an irregular occurrence.

 Unless you’ve booked in advance, these days Inverness is not a destination to arrive at “on spec”.

 What might seem surprising – if not astonishing – to many is that, unless we are being visited by an unlikely quota of foreign millionaires, people are willing to pay up to £200 for a standard hotel room.

 Some of us would choose to sleep in a skip or on a bed of nails rather than part with that amount for a bed for the night.

 But it’s all to do with the value of the pound. The new low value “Brexit” pound. And if the UK and Inverness is 30 per cent cheaper to visit as a result compared with other countries, then if you’re from Europe,  the US or Japan it has to be near the top of your holiday bucket-list.

 Anti-Brexiteers claim we are cutting off ties with Europe and an insular sourness has blighted our relationship with people from others countries.

 It certainly doesn’t look or sound like that on the streets of Inverness these days. The mass influx from Germany, Italy, France, Holland and just about everywhere else suggests they can’t get enough of us.

 The knock-on effect from overflowing hotels to packed guest houses has propelled the rise in the Airbnb market, with Inverness now the second most popular Airbnb destination after Edinburgh. It could be there’s enough to go round for everyone.

 So, directly or indirectly, the Ironworks could be classed as a “victim” of Brexit. But apart from some music fans, no-one will be complaining.

 The flood of tourist money pouring into Inverness benefits so many local people and businesses – and is just about the best news in years.

‘Boris’ may not be Sturgeon’s trump card after all

 WILL Boris Johnson prove the trump-card nationalists are praying for on their “inevitable” road to independence? He was far from being my choice as Prime Minister, but now that the shock has worn off, is the Bojo effect quite as off-putting as many assumed?

 And is there a realistic chance of him growing into the job and shedding the antics and buffoonery image?

 Of course Johnson will never be feted north of the border and many will continue to heartily dislike or even despise him.

 But neutrals prepared to give him a chance may fairly concede that he has made a solidly authoritative start to the job.

 The prevailing image of the past week was his first encounter with Nicola Sturgeon and the photos which emerged.

 The Prime Minister looking friendly and smiling as they shook hands. Sturgeon wearing her most scrunched up face – not a pretty sight – obviously trying to put on a show of disdain for her supporters.

 It looked another petty, grievance-ridden gesture from her.

 Mr Johnson apparently remains as determined as ever to countenance a “No Deal” exit from Europe. The SNP’s latest pretence is to try and appear the most determined of all the political parties to block it.

 But we know it’s the outcome they secretly crave as they anticipate the chaos they ardently hope for tilting Scots “undecideds” towards independence.

 Boris Johnson may yet prove Sturgeon’s trump card, but she’s been wrong before – hasn’t she just – and she could be doomed to disappointment yet again.

 If only she’d had the good grace and common sense – and courtesy – to wear even a forced smile when she shook hands with Boris Johnson.

 He may never come across to many as a great statesman. But at least he’ll never come across as a gurning, resentful, mean-minded harridan with a chip the size of the new Forth Bridge on her shoulder.

Two weeks left to ponder this wretched riverside saga

 WE are just two weeks away from the much-anticipated council meeting on the riverside “Gathering Place”, to be held on August 20.

 It is certain to be the most widely scrutinised council debate for many a long day.

 All has gone quiet over the past week or so.

 The last we heard was Provost Helen Carmichael and Tory group leader Andrew Jarvie expounding their near-lunatic theory that this riverside-ruining travesty had to go ahead because of the money involved.

 £108,000 has already been spent in “artistic” related preparatory work – without a stone or brick being laid – for the wall and concrete pathways planned for this beautiful, unspoilt area, and not to follow through and build it would see that money “go down the drain”. And the council would as a result suffer “reputational damage”.

 In other words, having recklessly spent so much money very stupidly, they’d look stupid if they didn’t go ahead and do something which is even more stupid.

 You couldn’t make it up.

 It is as yet unclear whether the August 20 meeting will be decisive on whether or not this thing will go ahead. But it will go a very long way to deciding its future.

 In the face of mass opposition led by a 2,300 signature protest petition, the compellingly obvious move to make is to write off that £108,000, accept a major mistake has been made, and scrap the proposal altogether. That would be greeted with a huge sigh of relief.

 But consider the alternative, that a band of stubborn councillors stick with their determination to press ahead with the project. It wouldn’t be the end of this wretched saga, but the beginning of a much worse one.

 Up to now it has been all talk. But if they do push forward, before long, to the horror of so many people in the city, we’d see this natural location which so many cherish turned into a fenced-off, churned up building site, with trees being felled, shrubbery torn apart and wildlife fleeing.

 And at the forefront of everyone’s minds would be the knowledge – now almost openly conceded – that virtually no-one within or outwith the council wants it built, but that it has to be built because of the money.

 And this ghastly spectacle would go on for months, at the end of which there would be the most pitifully embarrassing “opening ceremony” in Inverness civic history.

 Do sane councillors really want to be a part of that?

 That’s the question Helen Carmichael, Andrew Jarvie and others should be asking themselves over the next two weeks.

 There’s only one obvious answer. Ditch the Gathering Place on August 20, end this appalling saga once and for all, and sensibly move on to dealing with the many other issues which require worthwhile and pressing attention.

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