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Community leaders in Merkinch 'sick to death' of looking at eyesore building shrouded in scaffolding amid ongoing delays to repairs a year after being damaged by a car crash

By Val Sweeney

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Dell McClurg, of Merkinch Community Council, and Cllr Bet McAllister.
Dell McClurg, of Merkinch Community Council, and Cllr Bet McAllister.

Community leaders are fed up an Inverness building remains shrouded in scaffolding a year after it was damaged in a car crash because of delays involving one of the owners.

The premises in Pumpgate Street/Grant Street in Merkinch previously housed the William Hill bookmakers on the ground floor and residential properties on the first and second floors.

But after the building was badly damaged last January when it was struck by a car, it remains an eyesore.

Community leaders now fear a similar saga to that involving the former Eastgate Hostel in the city centre, which was shrouded in scaffolding for six years after being gutted by fire as discussions dragged on with the owners.

The landlord of five bedsits on the upper floors of the damaged Merkinch building is Robert Strawhorn, who is also frustrated he has been unable to press on with repairs.

He says he has worked with his insurance company, Highland Council, building surveyors and solicitors from day one but cannot do anything until the ground floor section – which is owned by someone else – is repaired.

“The main support on the corner needs to be reinstated before we can continue with the repairs,” he said.

“I have spoken to Highland Council, I have spoken to building inspectors, I have spoken to the surveying team which is trying to make plans how to go about it and we are all ready to go.”

He said he had tried to move things on with the other owner but to no avail.

Mr Strawhorn, who was on the scene within 20 minutes of last year’s incident, had relocated tenants, some of whom wanted to return to their former homes.

His father-in-law also owned two flats in a part of the building which had subsequently been declared safe.

At one point, Mr Strawhorn wondered whether a compulsory purchase order by Highland Council might be the solution but said he does not think that would be feasible.

It would involve public money and could possibly include the whole building, which he did not want to see happen.

“The council only has powers to require owners to make dangerous buildings safe,” he said.

“They don’t have powers to force landlords to repair buildings.”

The damaged building in Merkinch.
The damaged building in Merkinch.

Local councillor Bet McAllister sympathised with Mr Strawhorn’s predicament.

“I am sick to death of looking at the building every time I go past it,” she said.

“I feel desperately sorry for Mr Strawhorn. He wants to get it fixed and done.

“It is an absolute nightmare.

“The people who were living there have had to go somewhere else.”

She recalled the long-running saga of Eastgate Hostel, which was an eyesore in the city centre’s main shopping street and a source of frustration for businesses and residents as discussions dragged on between different owners and the council following a fire in 2013.

“I fear this could drag on like Eastgate Hostel,” she said.

Dell McClurg, chairwoman of Merkinch Community Council, said local residents were fed up with the state of the building.

It was also causing disruption for traffic including buses which had to be diverted via a one-way system.

“It is a beautiful building,” she said.

“We want to save it. We don’t want it pulling down.

“We want it to be sorted and be used again.”

The Courier made brief contact with a Mr Khan, believed to be the owner of the ground floor, who said he was still awaiting quotes from solicitors.

Council to lead on work to make building safe

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