by Colin Campbell
THE time for argument and protest over plans to build an “artwork” wall and concrete pathways on a natural and unspoilt riverside beauty spot is now well and truly over.
Riverside beauty spot? What riverside beauty spot?
The idyllic riverbank setting adjacent to the Ness islands has been torn apart by heavy machinery and looks like an industrial building site.
Which is what the powers-that-be decreed it should be.
Across the Highland capital as we finally emerge from lockdown numerous stretches of road are sectioned off with bollards and temporary traffic lights for essential maintenance work to be done. There’s a lot to catch up on.
But nothing essential is going to emerge from work going on at the barricaded off, ripped up riverside.
Absolutely nothing whatsoever.
What once was a riverside beauty spot is now being ripped apart for the installation of a wall and concrete pathways.
No-one has come up with a remotely credible answer to that question.
The development is claimed to be “artwork” at a staggering cost of £300,000.
But the vast majority of the public – backed up by a petition signed by thousands – have insisted all along that there is no need for drastic upheaval at a beautiful natural setting and that it should just be left alone.
And there is incredulity that a wall and concrete pathways can be defined by the council as artwork in any case.
The Gathering Place was pushed forward by a small clique within Highland Council who decided that something – anything – must be built somewhere on the riverside to fulfil a long-standing commitment to implant “artwork” on the grassy banks.
Council chief executive Donna Manson said there would be a “risk” to the council’s reputation if the Gathering Place wasn’t built.
That summed up what the wall and pathways plan is all about. It’s nothing to do with scenic benefit to the riverside – or ruinous damage as many claim – it’s driven by money and repeated blunders by the council.
In their eyes, the Gathering Place didn’t NEED to be built. It HAD to be built.
There was another factor which has turned a much-loved beauty spot into a grotesque building site – vanity.
A small number of councillors were infuriated that their plans to build the ludicrous “Tilting Pier” were sunk by a furious backlash from members of the public. And instead of leaving well alone, from then on they decided that they would get their way and that something – anything – would be built on the riverside instead.
There was an equally furious public backlash against the Gathering Place, perhaps even more so, but this time blind stubbornness carried the day.
Not everyone sees the barricades and heavy machinery and gouging and ripping on the riverside as an appalling waste of £300,000 without any shred of justification for what is happening.
Arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie, one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the Gathering Place, has said what will emerge will be “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.”
Time will tell whether from the current riverside chaos a wall emerges which will be “unique” and “something which can’t be found anywhere else in the world”.
Or whether Isabelle Mackenzie’s grandiose claim is reflective of a mind-boggling level of folly, fantasy and stupidity underpinning what many believe will turn out to be the most wasteful scheme in Inverness civic history.
But for now the workmen there, largely oblivious to the huge controversy surrounding what they’re doing, get on with the industrial work under instruction to rip the riverside apart.
Natural beauty spot? What natural beauty spot?