THE long-running saga of the fire-ravaged Eastgate Hostel in Inverness has taken another bewildering turn, with the planned demolition delayed yet again.
The owners of the eyesore in the city’s main shopping street promised last year that work would start in January.
But it is now February and yet STILL nothing has happened.
A neighbouring businessman described the situation as a “fiasco” as the Highland capital prepares for a sixth tourist season with the monstrosity at its heart.
Frustrations have been growing among community leaders and businesses over a lack of activity at the building which was damaged by a major blaze in April 2013.
At the end of last year, there was a sense of optimism with the owners indicating work would start by the second or third week of January.
But patience is running out for chiropodist Jim Crawford whose business is close by.
“What a fiasco,” he said. “I think they are having us on.
“There have been so many stories. There have been so many false dawns. When will they tell us the truth?”
Mr Crawford said traders and other city centre representatives had previously been told by representatives of the owners that the work to dismantle and reconstruct the building would begin in the second week of January and be finished by the end of September but then this had later slipped back to a start in the third week of January, finishing the project in February or March next year.
“We have another tourist season starting in a couple of months,” he said. “This will be the sixth tourist season we have lived with this.”
Mr Crawford said it was time for Highland Council to take out a compulsory purchase order on the building, using money from the Inverness Common Good Fund.
Pat Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, said although there had been reassurances in recent weeks that matters were progressing in a constructive way, she would believe it when work started.
“I think it is another stalling tactic,” she said. “I am bitterly disappointed.”
She said that wintry weather could not be blamed for any delays, pointing out that expansion work at the Premier Inn in Millburn Road had continued even during this week’s snow.
“Even with the snow, they are working at full pelt,” she said.
David Haas, Highland Council’s Inverness city manager, acknowledged people’s frustrations but remained positive that matters were progressing.
He would not give any timescales saying it was up to the owners or their representatives to do so.
“I would not be talking positively if we were talking about a delay of months,” he said. “That would not be acceptable.”
Mr Haas said he shared people’s frustrations.
“People have the right to be sceptical and challenging,” he said. “It has taken so long to get to this point. We are at the point where we should have been many years ago.
“Now, we have every reason to have a satisfactory outcome.”
The plan is to dismantle the building and take away the stonework which will be used in the rebuild comprising two holiday flats above shops.
Building consultant Gary Johnston, agent for the owners Imtaiz Ali and Mr Cheng, could not be contacted before publication.