Council responds to latest riverside debacle, but more answers are needed

MON riverside
The riverside pathway where grass has now been replaced with tarmac.
by Colin Campbell

IN a storm of social media activity over the past few days following our revelations about the latest Ness riverside debacle, a number of people advanced the notion that extensive work carried out on the riverside footpath actually related to the installation of some form of pipework.

This presumably had nothing to do with any amateur expertise they may have had in underground maintenance work. More likely, they simply could not believe that so much time, labour and money had been expended on widening the pathway on the wide open riverside by a couple of feet to promote “social distancing”.

In that disbelieving outlook, they were at one with many other people.

Now, in the first council response on the issue, an explanation of sorts has been provided.

Councillor Ken Gowans forwarded material that appeared here to city manager David Haas with a terse question. He wrote: “David, Is this correct!?

“If so it needs to be put on hold. This is a Conservation Area and appropriate permissions need to be granted. Moreover, it needs to be discussed at the City Committee.”

Mr Haas replied: “The works along the Riverside referred to in the article are being undertaken by the Council under the Spaces For People Project Programme.

“I will liaise with the Project Team in order to check the facts with regard to the extent of the works and to provide an update on progress. As with the works to install the My Ness art piece, which are separate to the Spaces For People Project, the Council will take all necessary steps to comply with Statutory requirements, which include protecting the Environment.

“I hope that once the update has been provided, you will be re-assured on the above and that due governance has been applied to decision making.”

As the work has already been carried out, the commitment from Mr Haas to “check the facts” seems belated, to say the least.

But at least someone at council HQ is getting round to checking something.

While he’s doing his checking, Mr Haas should check also who sanctioned this act of incredible folly.

Other councillors angered by what’s been done – weeks of fenced off work on the riverside to widen a quiet footpath with plenty grass on either side for anyone wanting to “socially distance” themselves from anyone approaching them – also intend to raise questions on it this week.

OpenNess campaigner Helen Smith has said it seems an element within the council are “hell-bent on trashing the riverside”.

That view, shared online by many others, is based on concern that there is a pattern of complete disregard for the environment of the cherished Ness riverside within council HQ.

And in particular, that no lessons have been learned from the Gathering Place saga. Following a two-year outcry over plans to install a wall and concrete “artwork” on a natural beauty spot adjacent to the Ness islands, hopes that lessons would have been learned seem to have been dashed.

It was another gross misjudgement by the council to start digging up a 300-yard stretch of riverside for “footpath widening” without any adequate consultation, or even local councillors being told about it. And that it would begin just yards from the Gathering Place site.

A meeting of the Inverness City Area Committee is due to be held this week.

Councillors Ron MacWilliam, Bill Boyd and Roddy Balfour, who have condemned the work as being wholly unnecessary, have said they will be seeking further answers.

The formal response from David Haas is a start.

But more answers about this are needed. In particular to allay concerns that out-of-control officials with no conception of how important the preservation of the riverside is to very many people will not be allowed to run riot with idiotic “construction” work as and when they feel like it, without consultation, restriction or an ounce of common sense.

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