As Gathering Place goes ahead, spotlight swings on to the castle

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Work on the long-awaited conversion to Inverness Castle as a revamped tourist attraction is due to begin in next few months.

MEMBERS of Inverness Civic Trust were briefed at a meeting last week by senior council officials on development plans for Inverness Castle and the surrounding area. The talk was described as “informative”. The Civic Trust potentially has a key role to play in the future of the castle – the most significant and important scheme in the Highland capital for decades.

 The organisation in recent times has not been as vigorously involved in public affairs as it used to be.

 It took them months to make a fairly tepid intervention in the raging storm over the Ness riverside Gathering Place, a belated contribution which was widely ignored. It came long after a petition which attracted 3,000 signatures had been organised by the OpenNess campaign group.

 If the Trust, which still has local clout, had made its feelings known much earlier it could potentially have had an impact on the eventual outcome.

 Inverness councillors were eventually railroaded under the threat of supposed “financial penalties” at a meeting on August 20 into backing the hugely unpopular scheme.

 The reluctance of many – some of whom had previously expressed opposition – was evident in the aftermath of that meeting. They slid quietly away from it looking like people who’d just attended their own funerals.

 Work on the Gathering Place – a wall and concrete pathways costing £300,000 at a riverside beauty spot adjacent to the Ness Islands – is due to start “in the spring”.

 One leading OpenNess campaigner criticised the timing, saying it was just when the bluebells come out to enhance a lovely setting.

 It was a fair point. But when the diggers and hard hats move in they’ll make short work of the bluebells – and much else besides.

 No matter the level of loathing attached to it, the Gathering Place is going ahead.

 But the fallout from it should extend all the way downriver, with the question being asked: If councillors and officials can so comprehensively foul-up this part of the riverside, how much confidence should there be that they won’t foul-up the castle project as well?

 After the Gathering Place debacle public confidence in the council to deliver on work of this kind is at an all-time low.

 Inverness Civic Trust is just one of the organisations which should be monitoring progress on major changes to the castle every step of the way.

 The Inverness Castle development is one that hapless councillors and officials simply cannot be allowed to get wrong.

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Riverside beauty spot will soon be turned into a fenced-off building site as Gathering Place work goes ahead despite mass protests.

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