by Colin Campbell
SHOCKINGLY, the councillor most closely linked to the area which includes the Gathering Place site, Bill Boyd, received no proper advance warning of Tuesday’s major announcement on detailed plans for building the riverside monstrosity.
Inverness news and views can reveal he had to learn about it on Monday from members of the public who had caught wind of it.
Mr Boyd is officially a councillor for Inverness Central, along with several others. We have not been able to establish if they were properly told in advance about the impending announcement, but the obvious presumption has to be that they were not informed either.
The information about the announcement was placed under an embargo, restricting its publication until Tuesday, and ruling out any comment or criticism in advance.
Mr Boyd regularly attends meetings of Ballifeary Community Council and is recognised as the councillor most closely associated with the area. It is “his patch”.
For him to be given no adequate advance warning points to a tightly knit core of councillors and officials in the hierarchy treating members elected to serve the public with contempt.
The decision to press ahead with the £300,000 riverside “artwork” while the city centre is in chaos and so much else needs to be done to try and restore Inverness to something approaching normality has generated widespread anger.
The sudden impetus to build now has been branded as staggeringly mistimed.
Speculation circulating widely that a clique within the council who are determined to get this built at all costs are proceeding with it while many people – including 3,000 signatories to a petition opposing it – are distracted by so many other concerns related to the coronavirus. And that this is a time for the council to press ahead with a hugely unpopular project and to “bury bad news”.
After almost a year of complete inactivity since a final decision was taken last August to build the Gathering Place, a rush date for work is now in place to start construction next month.
The entire process has been dogged by claims of secrecy and a lack of consultation. Initially, the decision to build was taken by officials behind closed doors.
Inverness news and views has warned all along that a small hardcore of councillors were left seething when their plans for a “Tilting Pier” on the riverside were thwarted by an outcry from public. And they have been utterly determined that their alternative vanity-project replacement scheme, the Gathering Place, would not meet a similar fate. The merits of the wall and concrete adjacent to the Ness islands and the impact it will have on a natural beauty spot have been submerged beneath the determination to get it built, which is the priority above all else.
Tuesday’s announcement has proved that’s correct.
All public opposition has been brushed aside. Councillors like Bill Boyd, opposed to the “riverside ruining scheme”, have been given no further chance to raise any dissent.
And they have now been so excluded from the decision-making process that they are reduced to having to pick up scraps of advance information about it from members of the public.
Welcome to the “new normal”. And welcome to the council’s new attitude towards “openness and democracy”.