by Colin Campbell
INVERNESS anglers cited as being central to the creation of the controversial riverside Gathering Place have instead attacked the “madness, waste and folly” of the £300,000 scheme. Weeks before work is due to begin, the plan to build a wall and concrete pathways on the riverside adjacent to the Ness islands has evoked scorn and ridicule from fishermen who were supposed to be among its tiny handful of supporters.
When the Gathering Place proposal was revealed in May, 2018, Glasgow-based arts consultants Sans Facon stated in their presentation: “The design has been developed through extensive consultation with those who know, use and love the river. Last autumn the artists set up a large screen in Inverness Railway Station to show a specially commissioned film of the river and invited people to come and share their stories, views and reminiscences.
“From this it became clear that the natural beauty of the river and the anglers who animate it – a special feature in the city centre – had to take centre stage. The anglers’ close relationship with the river helped the artists to understand its changing character and to create a design that would facilitate others connecting more closely with it.”
At 4pm on the Saturday when the two-day event was held the “extensive consultation” consisted of the artists talking to one person who had wandered in, and on the Sunday morning at midday there were two members of the public there, with no-one else appearing over a half-hour period. Afterwards it was claimed that 200 people in total had attended, although that figure was later somehow raised to 300.
Inverness councillors who back the Gathering Place have since then been at pains to convey the impression that the anglers support it. One senior councillor last week said in the media that their support was a significant factor in the creation of the Gathering Place.
However, on Tuesday when we spoke to fishermen on the banks of the Ness they were animated only in condemning the Gathering Place plan. Their support was in fact non-existent.
Veteran angler David Dyce said: “What is this thing for? What good will it do? A load of money’s being spent on a wall and what will that bring us? It’s total nonsense, a complete waste of money.”
Angling club members said they were still in the dark as to what would replace their landmark hut, which the route of the wall smashes right through. “We’ve been promised the earth,” said Mr Dyce. “But we still don’t know what we’re going to get.”
Angler Geoff Lerway said: “It’s complete madness. They’re putting concrete on a nice area of the riverside that should be left untouched. It’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Archie (who did not wish his surname to be used), a member of the angling club since 1957, said: “It’s a terrible waste of money for no good reason. This Gathering Place thing is not needed and not wanted. It shouldn’t happen. Leave the place alone.”
James Emery said: “It’s the height of folly. It’s an incredibly stupid thing to do. It seems they’ve got this money and they feel they have to spend it. They got a bloody nose when they were knocked back with the Tilting Pier so then they felt they had to build something, anything, to save face, and decided to mess up another stretch of riverside instead. It’s a total disgrace.”
We spoke to half a dozen other anglers who dropped in at the hut on a sunny, chilly day over a two-hour period, but who did not wish to give their full names. They echoed the sentiments of those above, who were there throughout. Condemnation of the scheme was unanimous.
Jimmy said: “They’ve spent £100,000 on consultants and preparing for this and on whatever. Where has all money gone? Who’s accountable?”
Willie said: “Who dreamed this up – some guys from Glasgow. What do they know about our river. And yet they come up with this rubbish and we have to sit back and take it. It’s sickening.”
Bill said: “Hundreds of thousands for this nonsense. Why do we need a wall here? What’s it supposed to achieve? Aren’t there better ways to spend the money?”
It was clear that the fishermen, unlike many members of the public, have been following the Gathering Place saga closely, and had emerged strident in their opposition to it.
However, with around 200 members of the angling club, did others share their view?
Geoff Lerway said: “I don’t know anyone who backs it, absolutely no-one.”
James Emery said: “I’ve heard no support for it. Who knows, someone may want it but I don’t know anyone.”
None of the anglers we spoke to suggested there was any support for the Gathering Place among club members.
But there was recognition that the leaders of the club are “in the middle of a difficult situation”. Those present yesterday said they have to best represent the interests of the angling club, which leases fishing rights from the council, and it would not be helpful to the club, it was suggested, to clash head on with the council. Club officials are also trying to secure the best possible replacement for their existing hut.
In addition to being opposed to the wall-and-concrete concept of the Gathering Place, the fishers we spoke to had specific angling-related concerns about damage to the quality of their fishing, erosion, disruption and the lack of parking to cater for any “gathering” which might occur.
The strength of feeling against the Gathering Place reflected the views of the 3,000 people who have signed a petition against it, but, as the anglers are directly affected, their opposition is even more intense.
Councillors who have previously shown they will stop at nothing to build on the beauty spot will be undeterred.
But after speaking directly to the fishers on the riverside, it’s clear the intention of the highly-paid Glasgow consultants to put anglers “centre stage” in the Gathering Place development could hardly have been more of a failure.