by Colin Campbell
WORK was in full swing on the Inverness riverside, with hard hats and hi-viz gear prominent at two locations.
At the site for the Gathering Place adjacent to the Ness islands, workmen were pursuing the council plan to “develop” the churned up former natural beauty spot with a wall and concrete pathways with vigour.
Two hundred yards upriver on the Infirmary Bridge at midday workers were getting on with their task at the castle side entrance to the bridge, apparently fixing up an extra barrier shutting it off to the public for what has been described as an “indefinite” period. At the other end of the landmark structure, the closure barriers were already fully in place.
The contrast between the riverside activity at the two locations could hardly have been more stark.
The Gathering Place, which thousands of people expressed opposition to in a mass protest petition, is forging ahead.
The Infirmary Bridge, which is used as a crossing point by thousands of people every day, is blocked, barricaded and completely off limits.
At the “artwork” site amid the gouging and digging the first signs of a new structure have appeared. The wall that councillors have been so obsessed with building for the past three years is beginning to roughly take shape.
At the Infirmary Bridge, now that it has been fully blocked off, what happens next is much less obvious.
While the council’s riverside attention has been fixated on building the Gathering Place, the key crossing point of the bridge has been left to rot.
A warning of its likely closure was issued last autumn. And now that has come to pass, with no-one able to say how long it will last.
As we reported in December, structural defects at the bridge have been known about since July 2018, when a council engineer saw people making their way home from a Bught Park pop concert swinging from side to side on it, and immediately raised the alarm.
Senior officials then started swapping correspondence to try and work out what to do about its deterioration. Not much, it would now appear.
At a council meeting last autumn it was announced that that “urgent repairs” costing a minimum of £550,000 were required for the Infirmary Bridge and failure to carry them out could result in its closure on the grounds of health and safety.
The rate of deterioration was being “closely monitored” and further inspections would continue to be undertaken which would inform any decision on the timing of the closure. Inverness Provost Helen Carmichael told councillors last year: “Public safety is paramount and members support a temporary closure of the Infirmary Bridge until a funding solution can be found for its repairs.”
Public safety concerns have been comprehensively addressed now that no-one is actually being allowed on it.
In a brief statement this week the council said: “The Infirmary footbridge has closed on health and safety grounds due to a number of the decking panels exhibiting distress. It will remain closed pending a more detailed inspection and analysis.”
While the decking panels are exhibiting distress many members of the public are exhibiting anger and frustration that such a significant crossing point over the river – for pedestrians there’s no other quick way across with a trek into the city centre to the Ness bridge now being necessary – has been closed.
How long a “pending” inspection and analysis will take, never mind the actual work involved to repair the bridge, is anyone’s guess.
One certainty is that the reviled £300,000 Gathering Place will be completed to a wave of public apathy, opprobrium and disgust long before the bridge is open again.
The “opening ceremony” in a few weeks time for this costly and unnecessary addition to the riverside supported by virtually no-one outside the council clique obsessed with building it will not be enhanced by the spectacle 200 yards upriver of the Infirmary Bridge blocked off, decaying and empty.
The Gathering Place has been a shambles and a debacle since the wall and concrete “artwork” plan was first conceived three years ago. The rotting closure of the neglected Infirmary Bridge makes the council’s fixation on it makes their riverside priorities seem more botched, bungled and grossly incompetent than ever.