HIGHLAND Council’s headquarters should be levelled and the site given over to housing.
That is the view of an influential Inverness group who say the local authority should move out of its current Glenurquhart Road base and on to the site of the former Inverness College UHI building in Longman Road.
The Inverness Civic Trust has made the recommendation as part of its response to a public consultation on a new City Centre Development Brief aiming to shape opportunities for regeneration and investment in the area.
Consultation responses and council officer thinking on them were due to go before councillors on the city of Inverness area committee yesterday.
Trust chairman James Maxwell, managing director of Inverness architects Maxwell and Company, said it put the suggestion forward because it seemed a "golden opportunity" existed to revitalise an area which acts as one of the main gateways to the city.
Land next to the former college building is already set to provide a home for the new Inverness Justice Centre which will replace the current sheriff and justice of the peace courts at Inverness Castle, and will provide a base for other justice-related organisations.
Mr Maxwell said: "The site of the current council headquarters has already been identified for future housing which is something the city clearly needs, and it seemed to us that with the courts moving out to the Longman Road area there was an opportunity there, with the college being vacant, to create something of an administrative centre.
"It would revitalise that area and actually do something to move away from what has been increasingly common, which is for organisations like Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to move to the periphery – which we have always thought was a backwards step.
"The new court building is going to be one which the city can be proud of and there is the potential to create something that would only add to that – plus it could help along a revitalisation of the wider harbour area further back."
Despite this, it looks unlikely that the council is ready to adopt the trust’s idea outright.
In response to the suggestion, council officers stated: "Suggestion noted – no change: while there remains long-term potential to relocate Highland Council headquarters, its future location should not be restricted to one particular site in the brief."
Pat Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, also had doubts over whether the idea could be made to work financially.
"There are a lot of elements to consider, though it would be good to see something go on to the old college site," she said.
"I wonder whether the council would have the money for it and, in terms of housing, I’d prefer to see that being built on current vacant sites first rather than levelling the current council headquarters for it."
Depute provost and Inverness Central councillor Bet McAllister, however, said moving the local authority to the former college site would be her "dream come true".
She added: "Bringing everyone from across the council together in one main location just seems to make more sense than having them split as they currently are between headquarters and the Town House," she said.
"I know there are other councillors who feel the same and, while there are questions about how much the college would want for the site and how much the council could get if it was to sell the headquarters, I think they are certainly worth exploring."