by Colin Campbell
THE Gathering Place has been vandalised yet again, this time spraypainted with an incoherent but obscene message stretching for yards along it.
The thing was a concrete abomination and a monstrosity when it first opened.
Now, within a matter of weeks, it has degenerated – scarcely possible but it has – into a patched up slum as well.
And this kind of thing is taking place in the middle of winter, not the best weather for vandals to be out and about making their mark. God knows how much more of this there will be when the season changes and the weather becomes more favourable for acts of roving vandalism.
This is the fourth time it’s happened since it opened three months ago. And while council workmen, who have much better things to be doing with their time, move in quickly to cover over the griffiti, it leaves its patched up mark.
So much for the hideously expensive and supposedly elegant panelling that its “artwork designers” convinced gullible councillors would give their masterpiece a finished look like no other.
They’d have been better covering it with wire mesh intertwined with barbed wire.
Including the additional cost incurred by previously cancelled “artwork” proposals, ie the appalling tilting pier, this thing cost £360,000.
No wonder people still gape at the concrete plank and ask: How could that possibly be?
Although some of that money came from Creative Scotland, a huge proportion of it came from Highland Council, that is, from we the taxpayers, and from the Inverness Common Good fund.
So that was £360,000 of public money spent to concrete over a natural riverside beauty spot at a site which still remains, in addition to its hideous centrepiece, a grey and muddy mess.
The council clique responsible ploughed ahead in the face of mass opposition and despite warnings about vandalism which have come to pass and so much else besides. And despite additional money being allocated specifically for the purpose, they couldn’t even get access for the disabled right.
Throughout the three year saga these serial incompetents have treated the public with complete and utter contempt.
At the last council meeting where this was raised a few weeks ago, not a single councillor who backed this riverside shambles uttered a single word in support of it. They had no response to vociferous critics like Councillor Ron MacWilliam as he again condemned the travesty. They might as well have had their heads buried in riverside mud.
While our feelings about this debacle have frequently been expressed in the past, there is the future to look ahead to also.
This week in her budget the SNP Government’s trainee accountant finance secretary Kate Forbes removed the cap on council tax increases which has been in place for more than a decade.
That means councillors will have the power to increase council tax from now on by as much as they wish.
We’ve said all along that the intense dispute over the Gathering Place goes beyond the incredible folly involved in squandering a vast amount of money in ruining a stretch of the Ness riverside, appalling though that was. This ultimate vanity project, so obsessively driven through, should be viewed as a defining issue on the judgement of those who made that decision and their fitness to serve on the council.
Council elections will be held in May. Do people want the arrogant, shameless fools responsible for the Gathering Place having the freedom and the power to hike the council tax by as much as they like, to spend on whatever they choose, in the years ahead?
Anti-Gathering Place campaigner Helen Smith, who raised a 3,000 strong petition against it, and the OpenNess group have said they intend to do as much as they can to make this an issue at the election. They have already listed the names of those who backed the Gathering Place on their website.
Not all may deserve to be booted out but the noisiest advocates of the concrete carbuncle certainly do. I hope the OpenNess election involvement gains traction.
Many of the Inverness Area members of the council were responsible for the worst act of folly in Inverness civic history. They do not deserve to be rewarded with re-election and newly granted powers to send future council tax bills soaring through the roof.