by Colin Campbell
THE three-and-a-half year Gathering Place saga will end in a few weeks time when work at the riverside site is finally completed. Only a few yards of the curved wall remain to be built.
And then Provost Helen Carmichael will officially open the thing to everyone who wants to sit on a wall by the riverside in late November or early December.
Given the level of controversy which has preceded it, the opening ceremony is liable to be a distinctly low key affair.
But not as low as the wall itself. It only looks about 18 inches high.
The artist’s original depiction of how it would look, with people leaning on it, was well wide of the mark, like just about everything else related to the Gathering Place.
No one over the age of two will be able to lean on it, unless they’re under three feet tall.
The section jutting out slightly over the river comprises outsize concrete slabs. But the rest of it, with the concrete now covered over by cream coloured cladding, is for sitting on and not much else.
The Gathering Place is now far enough advanced to offer a pretty clear vision as to what it will finally look like.
It is small, bland, featureless and incredibly unspectacular. When the site is restored to something like it used to be, it will just have a wide lump of creamy coloured curved concrete running through it.
And yet the total price tag on this creation stands at an extraordinary £300,000.
The small band of councillors and officials determined to get it built will be able to claim that it doesn’t seriously damage the scenic beauty of the riverside.
And the campaigners against it will be able to assert that at a cost of at least £300,000, and maybe more given the long delay in completion and the ever rising cost of construction materials, it is a scandalous waste of public money, is wholly unnecessary, and that the natural beauty spot which existed there should have been left untouched.
Members of the public who have no particularly strong feelings either way are likely to say: “Is that what all the fuss was about?”
But the council clique determined to get the thing built at all or any cost will not be able to entirely wriggle off this particular riverside hook.
It was they who spent tens of thousands of pounds hiring a Glasgow based company to come up with a riverside “artwork” plan.
It was they who accepted the farcically grandiose claims made by the designers for their creation, and then eagerly tried to convince the public they were true.
It was they who became mired in accusations of behind closed doors secrecy and attempts to rush the project through without proper scrutiny or consultation.
It was they who were arrogantly dismissive of all opposing views as they obsessively forged ahead with their “artwork” plan. They had been thwarted in their attempts to adorn the riverside with a clumsy “tilting pier” and they had no intention of giving in to public opposition again.
And it was they who used tens of thousands of pounds of council and Common Good fund money to supplement an arts grant for their vanity project, even though there were so many other ways that the money could and should have been better spent.
Thousands of people who petitioned against the Gathering Place merely asked why, why, and why again.
Why from the outset was something that was obviously just a wall being described as “artwork”?
Why was it necessary to tear up a natural beauty spot and build it there for no obvious or credible purpose?
And why was hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money being spent on something so obviously unnecessary and wasteful by our endlessly poverty pleading council?
And the answers to all three questions remain the same – vanity, vanity, and vanity.
The saga will soon end.
The Gathering Place has not in the end ripped apart the riverside to a hideous degree.
But it has ripped a hole in the credibility of the council and the small clique of councillors in particular who were most fervent in their determination that it should be built. They may have gained their pathetic little £300,000 wall, but they’ve lost a lot in getting there.