by Colin Campbell
THE sun shines down on the natural beauty of the Inverness riverside and after five summers of riverside development farce not a brick has yet been laid.
The saga began with the Tilting Pier, and extended on to the Gathering Place which was supposed to have been in place exactly a year ago – last July.
And yet people strolling along the riverside now would see that absolutely nothing has changed.
What a monumental waste of everyone’s time and so much money this wretched saga has been.
Five summers on – and still the sun shines down on a natural and unspoilt setting which the council has been determined to “enhance” at all costs.
It has emerged that a new council phrase has been coined for building the Gathering Place. It is now subject to an “installation schedule”.
Apparently they are still determined that it will be “installed”. But absolutely nothing has gone to schedule up to now and there’s every reason to believe that will continue.
The wall and concrete structure on the riverside adjacent to the Ness Islands was originally scheduled to have been built by July, 2019. Then in January the council said work would start in the spring, without giving any schedule or date.
Spring arrived – before the coronavirus situation began – and still no details emerged.
Now they’re in a situation where they’re claiming that the shortfall in their budget because of the virus impact could rise to anywhere between eighty and a hundred million pounds. The implication behind that is that we are facing potentially drastic cuts in public services.
And yet the “installation schedule” for a riverside artwork development costing £300,000 is still apparently on course.
Council chief executive Donna Manson has insisted that it will actually cost the council £190,000 if it doesn’t build the Gathering Place, without providing any figures to back up that claim.
She has claimed it would cause “reputational” damage to the council if work on it doesn’t proceed. When this assertion was made last August two other factors were ignored.
Firstly, that preserving the unspoilt, natural beauty of the riverside is vastly more important than preserving the reputation of Highland Council. And secondly, that with regard to the way the Gathering Place saga has been handled, the council’s reputation is in tatters in any case.
Councillors determined to press ahead with the project have ignored a petition against it signed by 3,000 people.
However, they would be taking audacity to a new level if they went ahead and concreted over a riverside beauty spot at vast expense while pleading poverty running into tens of millions.
However, it is not beyond them.
Nothing will happen on the riverside this year. Then there’s one year to go before council elections are held in 2022.
It’s possible that some of the most fervent advocates of the Gathering Place – arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie and Provost Helen Carmichael among them – may decide to force it through before bowing out.
That they will be motivated by a desire for riverside vanity-project plans which have attracted so much public opposition over five long years to finally shape up the way they want them.
The hope, however, must be that these councillors set aside any such inclinations and act responsibly in the public good.
Any rational person would see it’s impossible for the council to start work on a £300,000 riverside artwork development while claiming it has a coronavirus budget deficit running into tens of millions of pounds.
But during the past five summers of the Tilting Pier and Gathering Place fiasco, council rationality on the issue has been in very short supply.
This is something they have just got terribly wrong. And as the years pass by, the hope must be that next July the riverside will remain untouched and unspoilt, as they finally admit it.