A five-year wrangle over a fire-damaged building blighting Inverness city centre could be on the brink of being resolved with the owners declaring "some real progress" is in sight.
Since the Eastgate Hostel went up in flames in April 2013, there has been growing public frustration over a lack of visible action at the site, set to be an eyesore for a sixth tourist season.
But the owners have now lodged a planning application to remove the scaffolding and demolish the remaining building in preparation for a rebuild.
If approved, work would start as early as June as further talks are set to take place this week with Highland Council officers regarding a scaled-back restoration which could start later this year.
Community leaders have welcomed the prospect of progress – but warn they will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure it is not an idle promise.
Majority site owner Imtaiz Ali was granted planning permission last year to turn his part of the building into six one-bedroom holiday flats, but so far the plan has not been put into action despite a series of meetings with council officials and representatives.
The submission of the planning application has raised hopes that an end is now at least in sight as a spokesman on behalf of the owners said "there now seems to be some real progress on the horizon".
"By removing the frontage and demolishing the interior, this would allow the Eastgate shopping parade to be taken back into public use," he said.
He said the front of the building had to be removed to gain access to the interior to make it safe and also to carry out work to support and protect the adjoining buildings.
He explained the front would be carefully recorded and each stone removed by hand and set aside to reuse in the building’s reconstruction although the owners were finding the plan, approved in April 2017, was "challenging".
"Therefore, they will be starting discussions with the planning authority regarding a more modest reconstruction while still retaining most of the original frontage," he said.
Inverness building consultant Gary Johnston, the agent involved, said the owners acknowledged the site needed to be tidied up.
"This really is the start of it," he said. "It is the intention to get this scaffolding off the street as quickly as possibly."
He envisaged work could start on the rebuild later this year, if the revised proposal is approved.
The council’s city manager David Haas said officers would be working with the owners to take forward the applications, which would undergo the due process.
"We think the owners are in a stronger position than previously to see this through," he said.
Pat Hayden, chairwoman of Crown and City Centre Community Council, also sounded a note of optimism.
"We have to be positive and hopeful but if it doesn’t happen we will be shouting about it," she said.
Mrs Hayden called for a screen to be put around the site during the ongoing work – similar to those put around the Inverness Town House and The Caledonian pub in the High Street during renovations there.
Inverness Central councillor Janet Campbell hoped a solution was in sight.
"It would be greatly welcomed by the people of Inverness," she said.
Elsewhere, work at Duncan Chisholm and Sons in Castle Street is understood to be progressing well after the shop was served with a dangerous building notice in January.
Scaffolding is due to come down there on April 28, a council spokeswoman has said.