Published: 11/06/2018 13:00 - Updated: 08/06/2018 12:16

Bridge Street redevelopment aims to draw people to Inverness

Written byVal Sweeney

 

Upper Bridge Street
The purchase of the Upper Bridge Street buildings is part of a bigger redevelopment of Inverness Castle.

ONCE-in-a-lifetime plans to transform eyesore buildings in the heart of Inverness into a major attraction will take several years to come to fruition, with discussions yet to take place ahead of any big decisions.

Highland Council’s announcement last week that it is to buy the notorious 1960s Upper Bridge Street buildings as part of a bigger redevelopment of Inverness Castle has been broadly welcomed.

Already there have been suggestions for the site ranging from demolishing the entire block to creating a green space.

But any action to redevelop the concrete carbuncles will not happen immediately as possible options have yet to be drawn up ahead of a public consultation, while tenants in some units still have several years left on the leases.

They include the Scottish Children’s Reporter Admin-istration (SCRA) which has stated its intentions to remain in its unit until the end of the lease in October 2025 while the Shapla Indian Restaurant is among the businesses yet to be contacted by the council on how the takeover and potential plans might impact on its future.    

Restaurant owner Shabaro Ali said this week’s announcement had come as a surprise, although he welcomed the news.

"Obviously, if Highland Council is going to redevelop the site, it is good for the city, it is good for us, it is good for everyone," he said.

With about another 10 years remaining on the lease, Mr Ali wants the restaurant to remain in its prime riverside location where it has been for the last 22 years.

"I am sure Highland Council will try to keep everyone happy," he said.

Orkney businesswoman Judith Glue opened her shop in Bridge Street 10 years ago and although she has yet to be directly approached by her new landlord, she was not unduly worried about the change in ownership,

"I hope it will be positive for businesses to be a part of a brand new project which would be good for Inverness," she said. "Until they get in touch and tell us about the plans, there is not a lot I can say."

The SCRA, meanwhile, occupies the main concrete block nearest the river which many would like to see removed.

When contacted by the Inverness Courier last week ahead of the official announcement, a spokeswoman said there were no plans to move out.

"This is where our staff are based and where we hold children’s hearings," she said.

Following discussions with the council, that position remained unchanged this week.  

Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing – also the Inverness and Nairn MSP and co-chairman of the steering group overseeing the castle redevelopment – warned the project would take time.

"I don’t wish expectations to be raised in that things will happen in the next year or so," he said. "I think that most things worth achieving in life do take several years. That will be the case here and it’s important that there’s a sense of ownership of citizens in the city."

He said the aim of the group, which had met 14 times over the last three-and-a-half years, was to create an international-class attraction which drew people to Inverness rather than being something people simply saw when in the Highland capital.

LDN Architects will look at the Bridge Street site to help create a masterplan by autumn prior to public consultation. A Highland Council spokeswoman said the local authority would become the landlord of any occupants or tenants.

"There will be no changes to the buildings until consultation has taken place, apart from any minor repairs which a landlord would be responsible for," she said.

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