A NEW state-of-the-art sports complex for Inverness would boost opportunities for young athletes and provide a valuable new revenue stream for the region, its backers have said.
Supporters of the proposed Highland Arena are calling on councillors to ensure the project is included in the local authority capital plan due to be agreed next month and say without that inclusion, the scheme could collapse.
The arena is currently planned for Bught Park, close to the existing Inverness Leisure, and under current proposals would include space for athletics, cycling, gymnastics, judo and tennis at a projected cost of £23 million.
It has also been suggested it could act as a new conferenceevents venue.
The project previously missed out on receiving money from the Inverness City Deal, with supporters saying this makes it even more vital for the council to commit to taking it forward.
John MacMillan, chairman of local cycling charity HiVelo, said: “It will open up new experiences and opportunities for our young people in particular.
“The Highlands are especially deficient in regional performance sports facilities compared to the rest of Scotland, and the new arena will fix that glaring ‘black hole’ – it’s a real game-changer.”
It has been suggested the arena could provide around a dozen new jobs once it is up and running, with further temporary opportunities available on a seasonal basis andor when major events are held there.
Mike Greaves, secretary of the Highland Velodrome Trust, said: “HiVelo believes that final planning and procurement could be completed in the next 12 months and construction could start in summer 2019 for completionopening by autumn 2020 – but it’s all in the council’s hands.”
Councillors have already said that cuts to both capital spend and council services are inevitable given the financial pressures the council is under and Inverness West councillor Alex Graham, whose ward includes Bught Park, has reportedly said he would personally want to ensure schools and roads are prioritised over a sports centre.
However Mr MacMillan said there were sound economic reasons to back the arena.
As well as the benefits to sports enthusiasts, he said: “Many concerts, shows, exhibitions and conferences currently bypass the Highlands for want of a suitably large performance space.
“A flexible cultural venue with capacity for up to 3-5000 people would attract significant new business to the region.”
SportScotland has promised £7 million in grant support for the project, but Mr MacMillan said this could lapse without the council also getting on board.
Similarly, he argued, European financing had to be spent by 2020 while other donors were likely to need assurances of council backing to get or stay on board.
He said local authority investment could be spread over three financial years to ease the burden.
HiVelo has produced a “toolkit” to supporters in making representations to their local councillors. This can be accessed at www.hivelo.co.uk