Future potential of historic green site in heart of Inverness back on the table
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Renewed efforts are under way in a bid to make greater public use of a large green space near the centre of Inverness.
Access to the historic Northern Meeting Park – built in 1864 as the world’s first Highland Games stadium – is usually limited to a few events and some user groups while the Victorian grandstand building is in a poor state of repair.
But a feasibility study, including a series of public consultations, is due to be carried out to consider how the park might make a greater contribution to the vitality and vibrancy of the city.
The park, owned by Highland Council, is used for events such as the Inverness Highland Games, the annual Hogmanay party and concerts.
It is also the home ground for Northern Counties Cricket Club and is also used by three primary schools for a few hours a week but otherwise the gates are generally kept locked.
In recent years, campaigners have explored the possibility of transferring ownership of the site to a community-run group with the aim of transforming it into a recreational space for all to use.
But they were dealt a blow last year when a funding bid to carry out a feasibility study and create a business plan was turned down.
The council has now agreed that Inverness City Heritage Trust (ICHT) can commission a study to explore opportunities to enhance the use and enjoyment for the principal benefit of the area's residents.
The local authority is also to submit a bid to the UK government's levelling up fund and community renewal fund for the Northern Meeting Park along with Bught Park and Inverness Castle.
Alison Tanner, of ICHT, said the project was still at the very early stages but felt the coronavirus pandemic had highlighted the importance of making the most of green spaces.
"This is a good time to start talking about it and looking at it," she said.
"One thing everyone has realised over this period is that people want to be out and about and enjoying whatever community spaces they can find in city centres.
"This park is an important part of our streetscape.
"I think people will want to use that space in the future. It is about protecting it but thinking slightly more creatively so as many people as possible can use it."
She said the ICHT wanted to ensure any future redevelopment of the building and grounds was done in a manner which was sympathetic to their importance to the architectural heritage of Inverness and its present urban landscape.
While the tender to carry out the study is expected to be awarded soon, the ICHT also commissioned full architectural drawings along with structural reports and specialist surveys such as rot, trees and bats earlier this year to give an understanding of the current health of the buildings.
They found that the B-listed grandstand – reportedly the oldest and finest example of a purpose-built Highland Games facility in the world – was in a poor state of repair and recommended some short-term immediate repairs.
Jon Ford, of the Northern Meeting Park, has previously campaigned for the park to be transferred into community ownership.
He is now part of a newly-formed steering group which also includes representatives of a wide-ranging organisations including the council, schools, community councils, Eden Court Theatre and Inverness Cathedral.
It is intended to be a sounding board for the development and appraisal of development options emerging from the study.
Mr Ford was pleased the future potential for the park was back on the public agenda.
"I think what the pandemic has done – not just in Inverness but in the UK – is to show how important green space is to people," he said.
"We all need space after being cooped up."
He felt the Northern Meeting Park offered a different type of green space to other city places such as Bught Park, or Whin Park which has a functional play area.
"It is not the biggest park but it has shady areas and quiet corners you can be on your own if you want," he said.
"It is a magical place.
"Hopefully, it is now on the agenda to turn it into a magical place to be used."
Related story: Group keen to influence park's future