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Highland Council under fire over work to dig up riverside verges

By Scott Maclennan

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The footpath was closed during the work.
The footpath was closed during the work.

Workers have been digging up grass verges along the River Ness, much to the anger of local people.

It comes a few days after local traders demanded the council abandon a new one-way traffic system around the castle, which has been causing chaos and confusion.

And business leaders are also angry at plans to cover the castle itself in hoardings during what is left of the already truncated tourist season.

The verge work in Ness Walk, near Bught Park, was due to be completed yesterday and is near the site of the planned My Ness artwork – itself a source of huge controversy.

Grass was dug up so the path could be widened.
Picture: Gary Anthony
Grass was dug up so the path could be widened. Picture: Gary Anthony

Widening the pathway to make social distancing easier comes after the installation of barriers in city centre streets to increase space for pedestrians as part of the council’s ongoing Spaces for People project.

But yesterday it was blasted by local councillor Bill Boyd, who said: “I don’t know of any project that has authorised that work.

“It just seems to be some group that is determined to destroy the riverside way and I don’t understand why we are doing that.

“It is a total waste of money.”

Campaigners against the riverside artwork have also criticised the new work for further spoiling a designated conservation area, with a tree damaged in the process.

Helen Smith, of the OpenNess protest group, said: “I took some photos which show the damage to roots of one of the trees.

“Measures should be taken to avoid causing damage, including ensuring that roots are cleanly cut if they need to be cut.

“During the work, the path has been fenced off and there was no possibility of passing someone safely under social-distancing rules.

“It is difficult to understand why this course of action was chosen.”

At the same time, fed-up traders in Castle Street – already grappling with the impact of the controversial one-way traffic system implemented recently and just getting back up and running after the easing of lockdown – now face the prospect of new eyesores being imposed.

Installation of scaffolding at 51-53 Castle Street – which is to be converted into flats – plus plans to erect hoarding around Inverness Castle ahead of its transformation into a visitor attraction are both understood to be imminent. The hoarding will be more than 7ft high and could be there for four years.

Tania Kennedy, owner of Rouge womenswear shop, branded the red and white barriers put in place for the one-way system “an eyesore” just adding to issues in the area.

“If you stand at the bottom of Castle Street it starts with the mess at the town house which has been going on forever,” she said.

“The whole place looks a mess.”

David Traill, owner of angling and shooting equipment store J Graham, also in Castle Street, felt there was no need to put hoardings up at the castle before the contract for work on the building has even been awarded.

Workers drill holes for hoarding at Inverness Castle.
Picture: Gary Anthony
Workers drill holes for hoarding at Inverness Castle. Picture: Gary Anthony

“We already have Castle Street looking like a crime scene with red and white bollards,” he said.

“They are about to cover up the one aesthetically-pleasing establishment in the town.

“Surely it could happen closer to the time when they are due to start work?

“Until then, let’s allow the few visitors to have their picture taken with the statue of Flora MacDonald without it looking like a building site.”

A council spokeswoman confirmed the work on the riverside pathway was part of the wider Spaces for People project and said that it had been specifically decided to use hand tools only to minimise the danger of unnecessary damage to trees.

“Unfortunately, one tree root has been scuffed when lifting material from above it,” she said.

“The project officer and forestry officer have been to the site and have confirmed that the wound is minor and will not affect the health of the tree.”

The council’s city manager David Haas told councillors yesterday: “We are keeping a very close watch with our officers in terms of the effectiveness of the Spaces for People project.

“Also, as part of our bounceback campaign we have been working very closely with the business community and our partners in Highland News and Media to make sure the messaging gets out effectively so that people know how to use these areas.”

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