by Colin Campbell
LOCAL councillors were left completely in the dark about the latest moves to tear up the Ness riverside, Inverness news and views can reveal.
Despite extensive work being undertaken just yards from the hugely contentious Gathering Place site, there was no advance warning or consultation with them about what was proposed.
Yesterday our revelations that a 300-yard stretch of riverside had been ripped up with tarmac replacing grass to widen a footpath generated an outpouring of scorn and derision across social media from members of the public.
The work, which is still ongoing, has been undertaken to widen a pathway there, already more than a yard wide, by approximately two feet, to enable “social distancing”.
Critics, like riverside campaigner Helen Smith, have branded the scheme “ridiculous beyond belief”, pointing out that there is grass on either side for anyone to step on to if they wish to socially distance themselves from anyone coming towards them.
There is rarely more than one new coronavirus case a day in the Highlands now, and there has been a period where there were no reported cases for a week. But precautionary measures meant to apply to congested city centre pavements have been undertaken on a quiet footpath on the wide open riverside, at a cost of thousands of pounds.
Most concerning of all to some people is the fact that no lessons have been learned from the two-year Gathering Place debacle.
One correspondent to Inverness news and views yesterday wrote: “You would think that after the level of criticism over the Gathering Place, someone somewhere within the council would have seen what was planned just yards away and said, hold on, do we really need to do this. Do we really need to start digging up the Riverside to widen that footpath when it’s obvious there’s plenty space for people to pass each other as they like, just by stepping on to the grass for a stride or two. Do we really need to fence off the area and send in workmen and diggers and machinery to do all that work just to widen the path by a couple of feet. Do we really need to do so much to achieve so little when it doesn’t look necessary in any case.”
She added: “Apparently there was no-one there to look at what was planned and apply even the most basic level of common sense. This work is meant for busy pavements in busy commercial precincts. It was surely never intended to apply to a quiet footpath on the wide open Riverside. What’s happening right along the Riverside right next to where they’re going to install the totally unwanted Gathering Place wall angers me. But I also find it very dispiriting. There seems no common sense and no control within our council over what’s going on.”
OpenNess campaign group member Helen Smith, who organised a petition against the Gathering Place wall and concrete pathways plan adjacent to the Ness islands said it seem there is an element within the council “hell-bent on trashing the riverside”.
Yesterday she said it appeared no lessons had been learned from the Gathering Place debacle and added: “After this latest piece of outright stupidity and wanton vandalism I do worry about what’s coming next.”
Inverness councillors said they were unaware of what had been planned on the riverside but would be aiming to get answers about why the latest riverside work was undertaken and why it was considered appropriate and necessary.
Councillor Roddy Balfour told us: “Well might you ask ‘What next?’. My reply is that I don’t know and neither, seemingly, do any of my colleagues, BUT there is an Inverness area meeting on Monday and I’ll do my best to find out then.”
Councillor Bill Boyd told us: “In my opinion this action does nothing to improve social distancing. It does not increase safety for active-travel walkers, cyclists or wheelchair users. I am getting large numbers of complaints daily. I do not know of any project specifically authorised by councillors to do this to the riverside.”
“I will be seeking to find out who is responsible.”
And Councillor Ron MacWilliam said: “I’ve got no idea who authorised this and am trying to get answers from the council today. I walk there regularly and can’t imagine what possible need there would be for a permanent widening of the pavement, it’s usually very quiet. If tarmac was an easy and obvious solution there wouldn’t be any objection but it’s the riverbank for goodness sake, it’s tree-lined. These trees will be compromised by ripping up roots so close to their bases.
“It is exhausting trying to get Highland Council to respect the natural environment that we are so fortunate to have around us, right in the middle of town. If they carry on degrading a wee bit here and a wee bit there, one day we’ll wake up and the lot will be gone.”