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Highland Council will ‘pay a price’ for Inverness riverside artwork decision

By Scott Maclennan

Councillors Glynis Campbell-Sinclair and Ken Gowans with protesters...Picture: James MacKenzie.
Councillors Glynis Campbell-Sinclair and Ken Gowans with protesters...Picture: James MacKenzie.

HIGHLAND Council has been accused of missing a “golden opportunity” to enhance its reputation by voting to press ahead with the controversial River Ness artworks project.

At a rowdy meeting on Tuesday, members of the Inverness city committee traded insults and accusations that threatened to boil over at times, with a full public gallery voicing disdain or showing their approval with applause.

Inverness Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam lambasted the council for its handling of the issue, while questioning by Culloden and Ardersier councillor Glynnis Campbell-Sinclair revealed the lack of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the My Ness project.

Officers, however, insisted no EIA had been required and they had consulted all relevant authorities ahead of My Ness being granted planning permission under delegated powers.

Councillor Emma Knox (Aird and Loch Ness) slammed the lack of access for the disabled and Councillor Ken Gowans (Inverness South) argued that contrary to claims by chief executive Donna Manson that the council would suffer significant reputational damage if it failed to proceed with the project, cancellation would in fact enhance its reputation locally.

“The chief executive spoke about the great reputational damage the council might sustain should there be any repeal of the river artworks,” he said.

“Actually, I think she has got that the wrong way round.

“I fear the council has missed a golden opportunity to establish an excellent reputation of respectfully listening to the people who we are here to represent and serve.

“Admitting that something has gone awry and having the confidence to change course, I think, would only earn respect, rather than damage a reputation.

“I am not sure anyone would envy the reputation of a local authority that did not and would not listen to the people we entered local government to serve. That must be considered when reviewing the river artworks as a whole. Yes, a price would have to have been paid, but I worry the council will pay a price anyway in the eyes of locals.”

Mrs Manson, however, steadfastly defended council officers’ handling of the river arts scheme.

“I wish to publicly state that I have observed their outstanding professional conduct and their moral authority at all times,” she said. “They have been honest, acted with integrity and treated people with respect.

“They have also had the courage to do the right thing knowing there may be a public reaction and I commend them for their courage. I do believe that our Highland Council is an organisation built on strong foundations of integrity and trust.”

Provost Helen Carmichael said: “I have been involved in the city arts working group since 2015. I firmly believe that we have reviewed, scrutinised and conducted the business of this working group as we were tasked to do by this committee.

“We have also reported regularly to every meeting of this committee as we were required to do. These are therefore not individual decisions by working group members but collective decisions taken by the city area committee.”

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