AN overdue facelift to rid the city centre of another eyesore is imminent, according to council chiefs.
More than four years after fire ravaged the Eastgate Backpackers Hostel its owner has indicated that a refurbishment project to transform the property into luxury holiday accommodation should begin soon.
Planning permission was granted six months ago.
The update has not reassured regular critics of the ugly scaffolding which has encased the building since 2013.
Local podiatrist and ex councillor Jim Crawford yesterday called for the council to compulsory purchase the property for £1 and clean up the building itself.
It is within a conservation area and governed by strict rules about architecture.
The second and third floors are due to be converted into four, one-bedroom holiday lets.
The spokesman for owner Imtiaz Ali did not respond to The Inverness Courier’s approaches over the past few days.
Project manager Iain Sibbald had previously blamed a building warrant delay.
Mr Crawford said: "The latest I’ve heard is that work is to start in December. But why the hell December? It’s ridiculous really. Not the best time of year to carry out such a job, is it?
"I’m really quite horrified. I’ve lost count of people telling me they’re fed up with this eyesore – in a town that’s about to spend millions of city-region deal money on a facelift.
"I asked (city manager) David Haas if the owner had received the insurance money.
"If they have, why haven’t they spent it redoing the place?
"If the owner has had the insurance money there must be some way we can force their hand to do this quickly – or the council should take it into their own hands.
"I’m in favour of the council buying it for £1 and developing it, with a ground-floor shop and flats above to create income for the council.
Mr Haas reaffirmed that the council was "not happy" with the timescale involved but that "we have seen major progress in the past four months."
He said: "It’s not acceptable to see a building of this stature in this condition for such a lengthy period of time in our city.
"We’re looking to see progress very quickly. A meeting is set to take place in the next seven to 10 days with all parties which we’re convening to drive this forward.
"We’re at an advanced stage with regard to planning for the refurbishment of the building. It’s the tenders that have been received that are being evaluated at this time.
"It’s up to the agents to talk to their insurers and agree the next step.
"We’re looking to see some progress in this, in the next 10 days."
Asked if the insurers had paid out, Mr Haas said that was a matter for the owner. He could offer no guarantee about a timetable for the work or when the now infamous scaffolding would finally be removed.
"We, as a council, have done what we can to put them in a position to take this project forward," Mr Haas said.
"What we want now is to see boots on the ground and a refurbished building and removal of the scaffolding."
It is understood that Mr Ali would be eligible for an element of public grant to finance the private project because of the building’s conservation area status.