by Colin Campbell
HIGHLAND councillors and officials yesterday continued with their self-inflicted Gathering Place masochism, wilfully embarrassing and humiliating themselves with the obsession that just won’t die.
Yesterday they offered an early Christmas present to the people of Inverness with yet another “it will go ahead” announcement.
This £300,000 riverside monstrosity already looked dead in the ditch. But no, it appears there’s still life in it yet. Or so the most ardent council obsessives would have us believe.
In a statement the council said: “Members of the ICArts Working Group last night (10 December 2020) approved the artists’ detail design for the My Ness Gathering Place project.
“Works had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also due to design elements requested by Inverness City Area Members, which will further ensure the new iconic Gathering Place is accessible to all.”
This time work is expected to start “in the spring”. Should that be taken seriously? Last January it was announced that work on this reviled and utterly shambolic scheme to concrete over a riverside beauty spot would begin “in the spring” of 2019. But no more information was forthcoming – well before the coronavirus struck – so work would not have begun “in the spring” last year.
Then in July it was announced, to widespread public fury, that the Gathering Place most emphatically would be built in August/September as a “priority project”, when so much else was needing to be done. It didn’t happen. Another announcement of a further postponement duly followed.
So will it be third, fourth, or fifth – I’ve lost count over this three year saga – time lucky for the obsessives? And unlucky for our beautiful, currently concrete free riverside and the thousands of people who are vehemently opposed to building a wall and concrete on it? Or will there be yet another postponement?
That’s anyone’s guess.
Yesterday’s latest announcement said: “Off-site fabrication work is set to begin by Beauly-based construction firm Simpsons as early as January, in preparation for onsite work to be undertaken when weather allows in the spring.”
If I was them I’d demand payment upfront before they start fabricating anything. So much – over £100,000 – has already been squandered on this travesty that nothing about it is certain and everything is mired in uncertainty, including the money the council is supposed to be responsible for.
With its serial list of botched priorities the council is determined to press ahead with its riverside ruining “artwork”, but it has almost made an art form of running out of money elsewhere when it’s most needed.
And one utterly glaring example of that has sprung into the public domain in the past few weeks.
Three weeks ago Inverness councillors agreed that the Infirmary Bridge may have to close because it’s falling apart. That would cause huge inconvenience to many people. And there’s nothing the council can do about it because they’ve no money to repair it, despite – as Inverness news and views revealed on Monday – knowing about the rapidly decaying state of the bridge since July 2018.
Since then the Gathering Place has maintained centre stage with special meetings and countless hours of council staff time spent on it while the rapidly deteriorating state of the Infirmary Bridge has been completely ignored.
So if their latest announcement is to be believed they could end up opening the detested Gathering Place while the barricaded off Infirmary Bridge is in the process of falling down. Council chief executive Donna Manson has warned of the “reputational risk” to the council if the wall is not built – how would it look for the reputation of the council if that was the scenario on the riverside?
And no announcement on the latest new date for building the Gathering Place would be complete with yet more words of wisdom from the obsessive-in-chief, arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie. But does she write her own script or does some council lackey with an O-level in verbiage do it for her?
This time she said: “It’s a unique piece and I believe that with the artist and designer’s international status that this is an asset to any city, especially when we have the river and the Castle in the distance. I would call this an intergenerational piece. It’s the fact that the artists have delivered a piece that everyone will be able to come together to pause and reflect, but also enjoy the amphitheatre framing the life the river creates.
“Thousands of people are going to be attracted to Inverness with all the work already planned for the Castle and this piece will be another reason to be proud of the Highland capital. The team behind the scenes and committee members have supported this project throughout and we are now looking at the finished project, which will be unique and something which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.”
A riverside wall – “something that can’t be found anywhere else in the world”? Give me strength. Attempts at clever rejoinders are not necessary here. The public verdict on these kind of claims and – “it’s intergenerational”, “we have the riverside in the distance” – will be that she’s now making a complete and utter fool of herself every time she opens her mouth. As for the “amphitheatre framing the river” garbage, I doubt if Mackenzie would recognise an amphitheatre if she was in the Coliseum.
But the verbiage coming from Isabelle Mackenzie and the “creators” of the Gathering Place isn’t because they have a psychological defect which prevents them speaking in plain words that everyone can understand. It’s because they are unable to offer a credible reason for building the Gathering Place because they don’t have one.
The only reason it’s being built is because a core of councillors were seriously miffed that their Tilting Pier pet project was drowned in the water by a public backlash and they were desperate to install a vanity project, no matter how wasteful, useless and worthless, somewhere, anywhere to satisfy their bruised egos. That is the sole reason for their Gathering Place obsession – ego and vanity.
Isabelle Mackenzie, Provost Helen Carmichael and a handful of others who are determined to finally get their way have a last chance next year to do so, before the next council elections. And so we may well see the beautiful, natural, unspoilt riverside adjacent to the Ness islands being torn apart to be covered in concrete. It will be a sickening act and a horrendous sight but this tiny clique will have finally got their revenge over members of the public who are insistent that they want to see the riverside just left alone.
It will be their legacy before they slink off into obscurity or are hopefully kicked out by the voters. Gathering Place going up, Infirmary Bridge falling down. We really can’t get rid of these hopelessly misguided egotists soon enough.