by Colin Campbell
IT was Small Business Saturday in Inverness a few days ago and the city centre looked about as appealing as a wet – a very wet – weekend in Wigan.
Admittedly rain teeming down incessantly doesn’t enhance any area’s appearance, but the main commercial precinct looked dismal. It takes more than a slogan to bring in trade and customers.
Scaffolding in High Street, Castle Street, Bank Street, and road narrowing barriers everywhere remain the dominant features of the centre as we head into this bleakest of midwinters. The vast, ugly pile of scaffolding in High Street, I was told when the shops reopened back in June, would only be there for another 12 weeks. Obviously that hasn’t gone to plan.
Something else that hasn’t gone to plan is any serious attempt to create the imaginative Riverlights initiative which would have done something – and could possibly have worked wonders – in helping dispel the coronavirus winter glaur.
A couple of months ago dithering councillors refused to back it because they needed “more information”.
Since then the entire scheme seems to have faded away without even a flicker of purpose or ambition.
What was being proposed would have helped lighten and brighten the centre, would make it a more appealing and welcoming place to visit and would lift morale and mood.
The money for it would come from funds already saved from the cancellation of the Winter Festival so overall not an extra penny of public funding would have been spent.
The Riverlights programme would have seen “eyecatching light shows and projections mounted at city buildings and locations”. The Castle, Abertaff House, the Town House, St Andrew’s Cathedral, the Museum and Art Gallery, the Northern Meeting Park, and Eden Court Theatre were among those planned for illumination.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen now.
This could have been dismissed as wasteful frippery and that was the tone struck by several curmudgeonly and blinkered councillors.
But in this winter of all winters wasn’t it worth trying something to bring cheer to the city centre through the power of light?
It’s not as if this is a very radical and controversial idea.
Projection-based events staged elsewhere include Aberdeen (Spectra), Hull (Festival of Light) Leeds (Light Nights), Newcastle (Great Exhibition of the North) and Perth (Riverside Light Nights).
Why should a burgeoning city like Inverness be left in the dark, throughout this grim winter in particular?
The council’s own events team was eager to bring Riverlights to the Highland capital. But the suspicion is that some councillors were fearful of being accused of wasting money.
If so, they were too timid and over cautious. On their track record of staging spectaculars like the hugely popular Ness Islands Halloween show the events team would have made a success of this.
We’d have seen the city centre portrayed with a lights show in a way not seen before.
At the very least it was worth trying to create something colourfully, cheeringly, upliftingly different to round off the gloomiest and most dismal year most people can remember.
And it would have certainly been an added reason for people to go and shop and bring much-needed business to struggling traders in the city centre.
As it is we’re left with a city centre still dominated by scaffolding.
Maybe the council curmudgeons could string a few fairy lights along the planks and wire mesh. Decorated Christmas scaffolding? It looks like the best new feature the city centre this winter is likely to get.