by Colin Campbell
AN Inverness councillor who has not been prominently involved in the Gathering Place saga emailed me last week after articles appeared here about the appalling and disgraceful decision to push ahead with the riverside-ruining scheme under the cover of the coronavirus situation.
The only possible explanation for this perverse decision is that a hardcore of councillors who want the thing built at any and all cost hope that because people are currently distracted with so much else going on they won’t pay so much attention to the monstrosity being implanted on a natural, unspoilt beauty spot on the riverside.
The councillor said: “I’m as concerned about this as you are BUT other members seem little concerned – on the grounds, seemingly, that a Council decision has already been made!!!!!!!
“I’ll see what I can do in the short term. As a result of this being the Council’s ‘close down/holiday month’ it is difficult to make contact with staff – senior staff in particular.”
And, as more and more it seems council officials these days are calling the shots – the inability of elected representatives to contact them during “holiday month” must be a real problem.
The person who contacted me did, I know, actually vote in favour of the Gathering Place going ahead at a meeting last August 20 where the decision was taken.
He did so with the greatest reluctance, after hearing chief executive Donna Manson claim that it would cost the council £190,000 if they didn’t go ahead and build, without explaining either then or since how that figure was arrived at.
She also said that failing to build the Gathering Place would cause “reputational” damage to the council, paying no heed to the fact that 3,000 people who signed a petition opposing it are much more concerned about the permanent damage the wall and concrete will cause to a beautiful stretch of riverside.
At a cost – while the council is claiming it has a budget deficit running into tens of millions – of £300,000, with much of that money coming from the council, the Inverness Common Good Fund, and Highland and Islands Enterprise.
But the councillor who mailed me has had enough with the decision to push ahead with the Gathering Place as “a priority” while so much else needs to be done. I’ve no doubt that others who voted in favour of it feel the same way, but are just keeping their heads down hoping that they can get the shambles over and done with and that it’ll all just go away.
I’ve speculated before on who’s going to have the unbridled joy of formally opening the thing. The ultimate poisoned chalice will probably be handed to Provost Helen Carmichael who’ll have to stand there making a speech about how the concrete surrounding her has “greatly enhanced the natural beauty” of the area, while everyone else present squirms and looks down at the grass, or more likely the concrete, to avoid eye contact with her.
Does Provost Carmichael really have to be put through this ordeal? Could no-one else perform the opening ceremony?
Has anyone thought of inviting Prince Andrew to do it? He still has the title, as far as I’m aware, of “The Earl of Inverness”.
His public engagements diary has been very light of late. He might be quite willing to step forward and formally launch the Gathering Place. In fact I’d say he’s just the person for it.
They could bill the ceremony: “The disgraced opens the disgraceful.”