by Colin Campbell
THOUSANDS of pounds are being spent tearing up the wide-open Ness riverside to promote “social distancing”.
And last night the council scheme replacing riverside grass with tarmac was branded “ridiculous beyond belief’.
A footpath along the riverside – more than a yard wide – has been deemed not wide enough by the council, despite people strolling along it being able to step on to the grass on either side of it if they want to. So in a major project workmen have been digging up the grass and soil and and tarmacking it over along its entire length, making the path around two feet wider.
The council scheme on a wide open stretch of riverside has stunned campaigners intent on protecting the area from unnecessary development.
Helen Smith, who organised a 3,000-strong petition against the planned riverside Gathering Place, last night said the latest work made it seem like the council is “hell bent on trashing the riverside”.
She told Inverness news and views: “We thought we’d seen it all with the Gathering Place, we really did, but this is ridiculous beyond belief.
“Social distancing measures have been put in place in the city centre, where pavements can obviously be congested, and that’s wholly understandable. But whoever could have imagined the same would be applied to the Ness riverside? People stroll along there, couples or on their own, it’s never ‘busy’ and if anyone wants to, all they have to do is step off the path on to the grass on either side if someone’s coming towards them.
“To tear it all up no doubt at the cost no doubt of many thousands of pounds and replace the grass with tarmac is unbelievable. It just seems they are mindlessly hell-bent on trashing the riverside.”
The riverside path is approximately the same width as scenic paths and walks across Inverness. Although it is popular, it is never remotely “congested” with ample space for anyone to “socially distance” as much as they want.
But two weeks ago the barriers went up, and the work on widening the path is still ongoing.
Some people initially believed that fencing off the area was in some way connected to plans to make the road there one-way. But the real purpose has emerged with the tarmac going in place after the grass alongside the pathway has been dug up.
Coming at the same time as the announcement of plans to “rush through” the Gathering Place opposite the Ness Islands, the scheme will infuriate many who believe the council is carrying out needless and unnecessary work on the riverside without giving any thought to the consequences.
Helen Smith said the path-widening was also damaging the roots of trees along the riverside.
In a letter to a senior council official she said: “(I am) concerned to see work under way that is likely to cause damage to the lovely old trees along the path. My understanding is that, for construction works, no digging/cutting of roots is generally permitted within a radius of 12 times the stem diameter. If this can’t be avoided, then measures should be taken to avoid causing damage, including ensuring that roots are cleanly cut if they need to be cut, using soil picks/air spades instead of a digger, using protective membranes, raising the pavement, using cell root blocks etc.
“Can you advise whether you were consulted as to how to protect the trees prior to the work commencing, and whether you are monitoring how the work is being done?”
Ms Smith attached photos which showed tree roots had been broken roughly by a digger.
She has not yet received a reply from the council.
Last night she told Inverness news and views: “This stretch of the river is part of the Inverness Riverside Conservation Area and the trees have special protection which includes specific mention of the need to safeguard trees in the area. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the council. No steps have been taken to protect the tree roots, despite a range of protective measures which could have been taken. Trees depend on their roots for water, nutrients and stability and we will just have to wait and see if these trees survive.
“Invernessians and visitors to Inverness all treasure this stretch of the riverside as a special place but, at the moment, between the wholly unnecessary widening of the footpath, the damage to these beautiful old trees, the imposition of an unnecessary one-way system, and the unwanted Gathering Place, the Highland Council seems hell-bent on trashing it.
“This is yet more evidence that the riverside is just not safe in Highland Council hands.”
Last week the council announced that work on the Gathering Place would begin as a priority as early as next month, despite so much else needing to be done as the area emerges from lockdown. The scheme is costing £300,000, at the same time as the council is warning of a budget deficit running into tens of millions of pounds with the likelihood of cuts in essential services.
It involves concreting over a natural beauty spot adjacent to the Ness islands with a wall and pathways.
The lack of sensitivity or awareness in replacing grass with tarmac along a lengthy stretch of riverside for a “footpath widening” scheme that will strike many people as being bizarrely unnecessary is certain to fuel public anger over the council’s attitude towards the most cherished part of the Highland capital.