by Colin Campbell
AFTER nearly three years of intense controversy the barricades have finally gone up at the riverside site for the Gathering Place.
The most wasteful development in Inverness civic history is now underway.
The sight that thousands of opponents of the wall and concrete “artwork” plan had hoped they’d never see became reality as a lengthy stretch of riverside was blocked off as work on the Gathering Place began.
The building site scenario emerged as the River Ness was bathed in sunshine on the warmest day of the year so far, with many people strolling along the scenic, unspoilt, natural riverside regarded as the city’s “jewel in the crown”.
That is, until they came upon the barricades thrown up along a lengthy stretch adjacent to the Ness Islands.
These are expected to remain in place for nearly three months while construction of the Gathering Place continues.
To minimise the spectacle of the grassy banks being ripped apart the barricades surrounding the construction site are designed to visually block off the area entirely.
The overall project, condemned as wholly unnecessary and potentially ruinous by critics, is costing around £300,000.
Opponents, like members of the Openness group who have fought against it all the way – and raised an online protest petition signed by 3,000 people – have insisted the beauty spot now converted into a building site should just have been left alone.
Claims that the location would be “enhanced” by a wall and concrete pathways have been dismissed as ludicrous.
And with so much else needing to be done as Inverness emerges from pandemic lockdown, opponents insisted that supposed riverside “artwork” was the last thing the city needed, and that there were countless other ways the money allocated for the scheme could have been better spent.
However, a group within Highland Council was determined that the Gathering Place would go ahead regardless of the level of public opposition.
A poll this week carried out by the Inverness Courier showed 82 per cent of people who responded were still against it being built.
It’s too late now, however, and councillors who have been hellbent on pushing ahead with it will now be satisfied that work has finally started.
What emerges when the barricades come down literally remains to be seen. All that has been on offer so far are “artist’s impressions” which have distinctly failed to impress many who have seen them.
One of the leading advocates of the Gathering Place, Arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie, offered her own perspective of what the Gathering Place would bring to the Highland capital and the Ness riverside.
She described it as “a unique piece”, and added: “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.”
Such claims about a riverside wall and concrete pathways strongly suggest that in their obsession with building on the riverside Mackenzie and other Gathering Place enthusiasts have completely lost touch with reality.
That obsession was fuelled by resentment when a public backlash forced the abandonment of plans to build the “tilting pier” on the riverside. From then on a small clique at the heart of the council was determined that something – anything – would be foisted on the riverside in the ultimate vanity project.
But now the Gathering Place is taking shape behind those steel barriers, and when they come down in three months time the public will be able to judge for themselves whether the new riverside creation is unique and so imaginatively appealing that nothing like it can be found “anywhere else in the world”.