It’s time to ditch the Gathering Place, blame the virus, and bring long-running farce to an end

by Colin Campbell

IN A week when “roadmaps” north and south of the border have been flagging up the future in varying directions, here in Inverness there’s still one glaring omission.

There’s no Roadmap for the Riverside.

In October, following yet another council postponement of the Gathering Place, we were told work on it would start “in the spring”.

Time to finally end the Gathering Place farce.

Well spring is here now and there still hasn’t been a word about it.

Amid the ongoing and extended rules around the latest lockdown, it’s not even clear whether it’s permissible to build it at this time.

In the Craig Dunain area on a daily basis I pass men in hard hats grafting away building new houses. But there’s an obvious purpose to that and it could be classed as essential work.

By no stretch of the imagination could dumping a £300,000 lump of so-called artwork on a natural beauty spot be classed as essential, at least not by anyone in their right mind.

I’ve no doubt council officials will have a handle on where “monstrosity construction” fits into the rules and regulations over what’s “allowed” and what’s not.

But the rest of us don’t.

And if the council was to quietly slip out a brief statement saying that because of the ongoing coronavirus situation, the Gathering Place would NOT be built “in the spring” there would be no public outcry and no demand for clarifications and explanations.

There would be just another widespread sigh of relief.

This is a perfect opportunity for them to kick this reviled project further down the road, or roadmap, and into oblivion.

But yet again an unanswered question hangs in the air. Only a tiny number of people want the Gathering Place to be built. So how determined are they to build it? And is even their enthusiasm for the thing beginning to fade as they consider the bigger picture?

The council has a budget deficit running into tens of millions and squandering hundreds of thousands of pounds on this travesty is now going to look more wasteful than ever.

Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s glowering demeanour during her Tuesday “roadmap” announcement there’s a new found sense of optimism in the air. After a terrible year people are now looking for reasons to be cheerful. Is the council defiantly prepared to sour the public mood by pressing ahead with a riverside scheme that virtually no one wants or thinks necessary, and that thousands of people are vehemently opposed to?

The wretched Gathering Place saga has dragged on for nearly three years now. But it would still be a jaw-dropping thing to see workmen actually moving in with their barriers and concrete and began tearing up the riverside adjacent to the Ness islands.

With so much else needing to be done to try and restore a semblance of normality to Inverness, it would shock and anger many people to see this at the top of the priority list.

If council chiefs wanted to portray themselves as being grossly at odds with and out of touch with the people they’re there to serve, they could find no better way to do that than by bringing in the concrete mixers to build the ludicrous and widely detested Gathering Place.

With council elections coming up in a year’s time, this could easily be sidelined and quietly forgotten about. But will that happen or will they brush aside public scorn and hostility and press on with this vanity project purely to satisfy a few egos?

There is no way at this stage of knowing.

Sturgeon’s slowcoach roadmap out of lockdown has been widely condemned as being too negative and gloomy.

In Inverness a roadmap to the Gathering Place shouldn’t see the light of day at all. It’s a time to blame the virus, ditch it, and end this farce once and for all.

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