June has arrived, the tourist influx is underway, the torn up riverside remains torn up, and there’s still not a trace of the Wonder Wall

by Colin Campbell

FLAMING June has arrived, the tourist influx has begun in earnest, a prime stretch of riverside is still barricaded off, and seven weeks after work there began, there’s not a trace yet of the emergence of the Wonder Wall.

The torn up Gathering Place site now.

So how is work at the Gathering Place site going?

Progress is being made, or at least that has to be the presumption. But visually it’s still very much a barricaded building site.

A gathering of councillors and officials were reportedly seen there around 9am one day last week.

As they wended their way between the diggers and the piles of dirt, were they pleased with what they saw?

They may have been ecstatic. Throughout this three year saga it’s been impossible to follow the reasoning of those behind the Gathering Place project, and there’s no point in trying to guess how they may feel about it now.

And the torn up Gathering Place after work began seven weeks ago.

It was supposed to take 12 weeks to complete, although how seriously anyone should take that schedule is very much open to question.

Given the chaotic way this has been handled by the council up to now, it could take a year. Who can tell?

All that is known for certain is that a beautiful, natural and unspoilt stretch of riverside has been torn up, in the face of massive public opposition, so that a wall and concrete pathways can be installed there, for people to “gather”, at a cost of £300,000.

The torn up riverside with its piles of dirt remains torn up.

Nothing else, as yet, is any clearer.

When will we get a first glimpse of the profile of the Wonder Wall?

We’re calling it that because what other description fits the bill?

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.”

Other rapturous proclamations of what the Gathering Place would bring to the riverside have come from Provost Helen Carmichael, Professor Jim Mooney, and the artists who designed the thing, among a few others.

Tristan Surtees, of art firm Sans Facon, said: “The Gathering Place project is an occasion to expand and express the qualities of the River Ness for both locals and visitors, developing a collaborative and engaging artwork shaped with and in response to the passion people feel for their river.”

Professor Jim Mooney, chairman of an “Evaluation Panel”, said: “The Gathering Place, as the name suggests is an attempt at place, making i.e. creating a new civic space for Inverness.” He added: “Public art has a long history of stirring controversy. However, one of the key demands of art is to provoke thought and debate, as much as it is to stimulate the enjoyment of the senses and aesthetically enhance our lives.”

Provost Carmichael said: “I hope that it will not just be an asset to our city but a place where people will be able to come together to pause and reflect on the joy of human interaction within the amphitheatre of the river.”

The term Wonder Wall, not to mention the concrete pathways, in their eyes would seem to barely do it justice.

Visitors strolling along the riverside come up against a vista of barricades. They have, unfortunately, arrived too early to feast their eyes on the finished product.

But at some stage we’ll have ample opportunity to do so.

The unspoilt natural beauty spot that’s been turned into a building site.

When it begins to take shape, you’ll see it here first.

Let’s hope it lives up to expectations. The expectations, that is, of the council clique who were so determined to build it, as opposed to the thousands of opponents and critics who branded it the most wasteful, unnecessary and ridiculous development in Inverness civic history.

Time will tell who was right about the cherished riverside beauty spot now turned into an ongoing riverside building site at vast public expense.

But as the sun shines down on the Ness in a glorious start to the summer, behind those barricades there seems to be grindingly slow progress.

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