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COLIN CAMPBELL: Let’s hope this work on riverside isn’t like past fiascos

By Colin Campbell

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A resurfaced path opened around a week ago.
A resurfaced path opened around a week ago.

Given the recent track record, we could be forgiven for anticipating that any civic project with the word “Riverside” attached to it is destined to be problematic from the outset.

Such concerns arose for me when a stretch of road alongside the Ness leading to the Bught Park was fenced off in early November, dug up, and then nothing more happened. It was devoid of all workmanlike activity, with not a hard hat or a hi-viz jacket anywhere in sight.

I still used it often, or as much of it was available, a narrow pedestrian channel squeezed in alongside the barriers, on my way to Inverness Leisure. And for weeks on end, even allowing for the onset of winter, wondered about the timing, the inconvenience and the complete absence of any follow-up activity. I doubt if I was alone.

Then in mid-January an explanation emerged. The contractors said they had been unfortunate to hit a gas main. “That section is an old line and it’s close to the surface, so they’ve decided they need to replace it, but they’re battling to get materials.”

Unfortunate indeed. This is of course part of the “Riverside Way” project. Work has now resumed.

No wonder any riverside project has ominous overtones. How could it be otherwise, given what has gone before?

The sullenly ugly “Gathering Place” nearby involved the council pouring £300,000 of public money into installing a giant curved slab which they deemed to be “artwork”. Seemingly obsessive determination to create this concrete eyesore – in the face of mass public opposition – resulted in the desecration of a natural beauty spot which destroyed the appeal of a large chunk of the riverside.

The ruinous saga of the Gathering Place had a farcical riverside follow-up when the council decided during Covid that there was a need for an extensive project to widen the pathway along the Ness – adjacent to that dug-up road – by a few inches in the interests of “public safety”. A reasonable guess as to the chance of anyone catching the virus along the breezy riverside as they momentarily passed someone walking in the opposite direction would have been about one in a trillion.

Meanwhile, in a separate improvement scheme the barriers have gone up blocking access to much of the Bught as well. The iconic but worn out grandstand has been gutted. The design of a pavilion to replace it caused a furore a few months ago, with it being branded an ugly “office block” by councillors.

There may be room for improvement but compared with the concrete monstrosity the council was so determined to build 300 yards away, it looked shapely enough to me.

Let’s just hope as these schemes grind on over many months ahead that luck is with them, and they are able to steer well clear of further exposure to the developmental curse that has hung over the riverside. And that when they’re completed they’ll clearly be seen as progressive and beneficial, and far removed in their outcomes from the riverside fiascos of the past.

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