by Colin Campbell
THREE years after the Gathering Place fiasco began, the project has now been taken over by the Hole in the Wall gang.
Plans for what was supposed to be a long wall on the Ness riverside have been revised by the council. There is now a gap in the middle, with stretches of wall on either side.
Maybe the hole in the wall of the £300,000 project has appeared as part of a cost-cutting move by the council, which last week announced panic-stricken concerns about another hole – a calamitous “black hole” shortfall in its budget of £80million, with the likelihood of drastic cutbacks in essential services. They’re already claiming £60million of this will be as a result of the coronavirus.
No estimate is yet available on how much money will be saved by removing 30 yards of concrete from the Gathering Place.
However the Hole in the Wall gang, famed for their precision in planning and executing their varied enterprises, seem to have completely messed up this one.
As the Inverness Courier revealed on Friday, the new plans appeared briefly on the Highland Council website, only to be hurriedly removed, presumably for more public consultation.
Dear God, not more fictional Gathering Place “consultation”.
There had been no previous information made available to the public about the mind-the-gap alterations to the thing.
The saga is now almost beyond parody. Almost. But you certainly can’t take it seriously anymore.
It just keeps on reappearing in a series of “You couldn’t make it up” blunders.
The handful of council zealots hellbent on pressing ahead with their ultimate vanity project which has engendered intense opposition have pressed ahead with it regardless.
Mired in secrecy, confusion, and bizarre claims about the “£190,000 cost” of scrapping the scheme, no matter the ruinous state of council finances, they decided last August that the Gathering Place – or should it now be called the Coronavirus Gathering Place – must go ahead at all costs.
That was despite a 3,000-strong petition against it, with many contributors insisting it was unwanted, unnecessary, and would ruin a natural, unspoilt stretch of the riverside.
Comments from people already online say it now beggars belief that the council could maintain their fixation on squandering a vast amount of money on the Gathering Place while warning that they’re sinking into an unprecedented £80million shortfall crisis.
That is, hole in the wall, or no hole in the wall.
What happens next? Will the new design really go out for further “consultation”? Will there be an explanation as to why a design some councillors lauded so enthusiastically has now been completely changed? Will there be a justification for so brazenly wasting public funds at such a dire time?
One INV reader who wrote to us furiously before nine yesterday morning seemed to sum up the general feeling of the public. He said furiously: “What are the cost implications of the new plan? What happened to the original ‘vision’ of the designers? Those backing the proposal complimented the first design! Why wasn’t this the subject of public consultation? We thought we lived in a democracy…it’s clear that’s not the case in Highlands.
“Those who keep an eye on the workings of the council require to be extra vigilant as the potential for them to ‘slip and slide’ their way through a whole host of controversial decisions on the back of coronavirus is clearly high. The wall is well up the list.
“This is absolutely shameful and surely calls into question the entire system of decision making currently in use by the council. If it goes ahead folk will view this concrete monstrosity and ask, Who allowed that to happen?”
The only answer to emerge so far is that the council’s Hole in the Wall gang still seem intent on raiding council funds to ensure their perverse pet project goes ahead no matter what essential services have to be cut to pay for it .
And yet again they’ve wildly taken aim and wilfully shot themselves in the foot.