by Colin Campbell
A MONTH has now passed since the shock announcement that, despite so much else needing to be done to try and restore some kind of normality, construction of the riverside Gathering Place would begin in August or September.
We’ve had more than two years of sound and fury in the build-up to this – and now it’s apparently time for the main event.
The widespread perception is that, after two years of delay and deferral, the council has made a cynical calculation that this as the best time to build the thing, when there’s so much else going on to distract public attention, and minimise the level of publicity and criticism.
Of course they would never admit that, but that’s how it looks to many.
So can we expect an imminent announcement on a scheduled date for the gruesome destruction of a natural riverside beauty spot which lies ahead?
Some critics of the scheme may have developed Gathering Place fatigue. I wouldn’t blame them for that.
But in brilliant sunshine yesterday I took yet another fond look at this idyllic riverside setting.
Concreting it over with a wall and pathways looks crazy at any time of year. On a beautiful day like yesterday when the riverside looks at its best it seems nothing short of insane.
The location will be fenced off as workmen move in for a period of 12 weeks. What is planned will cost around £300,000 of public money.
The construction work is intended to “enhance its natural beauty”.
It has been said by members of the public many thousands of times over that it doesn’t need “enhancing” but should be left alone.
But a clique within the council believe that no less than three months of construction work and £300,000 is needed to create a “Gathering Place” there, and are determined to get it built at all costs.
As the time for this rapidly approaches, the scheme remains as astoundingly ill-conceived as ever.
So when can we expect to hear when the work will go ahead?
When will we hear from council chief executive Donna Manson, who seems to have more affinity with the council car park than she does with our cherished riverside. It was her impassioned argument that it should go ahead at a decisive council meeting last August 20 which apparently persuaded some wavering councillors to back it. At the core of her delivery was the assertion that failure to build the thing would cause “reputational” damage to the council. To members of the public present at that meeting she appeared entirely uninterested in the scenic and environmental damage it would cause to the Ness riverside.
And when we will we hear from arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie, seen as the main driving force behind the Gathering Place? One senior councillor who has not played a leading role in the furious debate over this godforsaken lump of artwork tells me it should best be named “Mackenzie’s Folly”.
And when will we hear from Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael who has also been at the forefront of the drive to build it, despite mass public opposition with a petition signed by 3000 people who are vehemently against the riverside destruction?
It can’t be long now.
And it can’t be long either before the fencing goes up and the heavy machinery moves in to tear the place apart.
This development – the ultimate vanity project – seems as appalling, ruinous and wasteful now as it has looked throughout the whole wretched saga.
If the intention was indeed to rush it through in these this troubled times and hope no one would much notice all we can say about that is – some hope.
There was never any chance of that happening with an act of wanton vandalism on this scale.
No matter what else is going on there will be a great deal of public interest when the destruction of the riverside begins. And copious amounts of public anger and disgust that the vanity project vandals are getting their way at last.