Gathering Place obsession, footpath widened by 18 inches for ‘social distancing’, while Infirmary bridge was left to rot

The Infirmary bridge is facing closure.
by Colin Campbell

MAYBE councillors missed the point. When thousands of people urged them to stop messing about with the Inverness riverside they were referring to plans to spend £300,000 on a concrete “artwork” monstrosity at a natural beauty spot, aided and abetted by widening a riverside footpath at a cost of thousands more for “social distancing”.

They did NOT mean to abandon it altogether and allow the Infirmary bridge to fall into such a state of disrepair and structural weakness that it may have to be closed entirely for months on end.

Our precious riverside has certainly been throwing up surprises in recent times. And this is just the latest and most  baffling example of botched priorities.

It emerged last week that “urgent repairs” costing a minimum of £550,000 are required and failure to carry out them out could result in the closure of the bridge in the near future on the grounds of health and safety.

The rate of deterioration is being “closely monitored” and further inspections will continue to be undertaken which will inform any decision on the timing of the closure.

Well at least we have some assurance that no-one’s likely to fall through a hole in it and end up in the river.

But how do “urgent repairs” become so urgent when there has been no mention of them before? You don’t need a degree in engineering to know that the structural deterioration of a bridge doesn’t happen overnight.

And what makes this a whole lot worse is that our poverty-pleading council now says there is no money available to rectify the situation, so closure could be inevitable.

Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael told the Inverness Area Committee: “Public safety is paramount and members support a temporary closure of the Infirmary Bridge until a funding solution can be found for its repairs.”

Public safety no doubt is paramount but when it comes to public inconvenience – and closure would cause plenty of that – it seems no-one could care less.

Talk about too little too late.

No wonder people are furious about this latest riverside fiasco.

For the past three years, 200 yards upriver the council has spent a huge amount of time and a vast amount of money pressing its obsessive case for building the Gathering Place “artwork” on a beauty spot adjacent to the Ness islands.

Heaven only knows how many hundreds of council staff hours have gone into collating and processing a mountain of paperwork on that.

But while they were focusing on every blade of grass at the Gathering Place site – the grass they wanted to cover with concrete – the spars and rivets on the Infirmary bridge it seems were being completely ignored, as they rusted and decayed.

And while timing and efficiency was paramount in spending thousands on widening by approximately 18 inches the footpath beside the river for “social distancing”, no heed whatsoever was being paid to the rather more important footpath running across it.

And now we’re left in this negligent mess.

I think most people have probably given up asking who’s responsible for this serial bungling when it comes to coherent management of the Ness riverside.

Because you can ask repeatedly but you’ll never get an answer.

It seems it just happens. And any attempt to pin down responsibility just floats away.

Now the council is seeking alternative sources of funding to carry out the bridge repairs, sometime, whenever.

But the £300,000 Gathering Place, arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie assured the public, is still definitely on course to be built “in the spring”.

So maybe the artwork will be going up while the bridge is falling down.

The ongoing riverside farce doesn’t get any better. And with this lot running the show, you can only expect it to get even worse.

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