by Colin Campbell
THEY got it wrong at the beginning, they got it wrong in the middle, and they got it wrong right to the very, very end.
£800,000 was spent on the River Ness artwork project, now officially concluded.
And what have we got to show for it?
What we have is a concrete plank at one end of the river and a sculpture (The Seer, which looks like a bit of wall with a hole smashed through the middle) at the other.
That’s a truly shocking waste of public money.
The arts group responsible, led by Councillor Isabelle Mackenzie, along with other incompetents, couldn’t get anything right.
They got it wrong at the beginning by accepting and then trying to sell to the public the idea that a concrete wall hyped up by its designers (did the Glasgow firm who flogged this idea to them in the most flowery language imaginable manage to hypnotise them?) was actually “artwork”.
They got it wrong in the middle, as numerous councillors who in the end tamely and rather pathetically went along with it previously told me, by keeping what was planned virtually to themselves. And then by trying to get it through under “delegated powers” and signed off by officials without any open council or public scrutiny.
They got it wrong throughout by completely ignoring a mass of public opposition.
And they got it wrong right to the very, very end by fouling up the issue of proper access for the disabled.
The subject of ensuring access for disabled people to the Gathering Place was raised two years ago, was discussed at length and heavy emphasis was laid on it. This was not a side issue for the “inclusive” council. It was supposed to be a very important element in the creation of the thing.
An extra £27,000 was added to the budget to ensure that the necessary work, an alteration to the original specifications, was carried out.
And what have we ended up with?
A structure where access for the disabled is said to be “impossible”.
Helen Smith of the OpenNess group which campaigned against the concrete slab, and who mustered a 3,000-strong petition against it, has all the required facts to hand.
“The Gathering Place budget was increased to allow provision to be made for access for people with disabilities, after the lack of access had been highlighted by OpenNess.
There are best practice guidelines for access to facilities such as this (as identified in the Fieldfare Trust’s Countryside for All guidelines) but these have not been met.
First of all, the Countryside for All guidelines state that paths, bridges and boardwalks should have a minimum of 1200mm of useable surface width. This is to allow two people (adult and helper) to walk along side by side and support each other if necessary. An adult and guide dog need a width of 1100mm. A wheelchair user and helper should have a width of 1250mm. A scooter user needs between 1000 and 1675 mm, depending on scooter size.
2 For two-way movement, the minimum width should be 2000mm.
3 Where the width is less than 1500mm, there should be a passing place every 50m.
4 The guidelines also say that in order to turn 360 degrees (which is necessary at the end of the cantilevered section), a minimum space of 2000mm x 2000mm is needed for a wheelchair user. Some larger wheelchairs and mobility scooters need more room – 2100mm, or more in the case of larger scooters.
5 Viewing points should wherever possible have seating or resting areas for ambulant disabled people and elderly people. There should also be a shelf for people to lean against when using cameras or binoculars.
The width of the main part of the cantilevered section is 1060mm. The width at the end of the cantilevered section is around 1400mm. There are no passing places. There is no seating and there are no shelves.
Which leads to two questions:
1 What was the extra money spent on?
2 Why were guidelines on access for people with disabilities ignored even when extra funding was allocated to make the structure accessible?
3 Why was a design developed in the first place that took no account of the needs of people with disabilities. This is a pattern right through this public art exercise (see also the “stairway to nowhere” now at Torvean) and is actually disgraceful.”
The council knew all this, or should have done, but now we have a situation where two disabled councillors have themselves condemned the finished debacle.
And the response from officials? They’ll raise it with the builders.
It’s a bit late for that now.
At a meeting last week not a single councillor who backed the Gathering Place had a single word to say about this, or indeed anything else about it. It was the same old story. Everyone keeping their heads down trying to dodge any responsibility
Maybe convener Margaret Davidson should have had a go. Maybe she should have tried to explain the “positivity” in this £800,000 “visionary” shambles, from the very beginning right to the very end.