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Inverness riverside art project has already cost taxpayers £500,000


By Gregor White


Artist's impression of how one part of the planned My Ness art work would look.
Artist's impression of how one part of the planned My Ness art work would look.

Despite just three of the seven projects being completed and no ground broken yet on its controversial centrepiece the project has consumed the majority of its £750,000 budget.

The campaign group OpenNess got a breakdown of the costs so far after submitting a freedom of information request to Highland Council

It shows that while two of the completed projects – River Connections and Sculptural Destination – came in under budget, significant sums have been laid out for other works which have yet to see the light of day.

Work has been paused on a series of viewing platforms or "rest spaces" due to health and safety concerns, though £11,600 has already been spent on their development.

A planned children's feature has a £40,000 budget with more than £13,000 spent so far and no visible work started on it.

And, as the Courier reported recently, close to £108,000 has been spent on the My Ness curved walls scheme planned for close to the Ness Islands, out of a budget of £300,000.

Management fees for the whole project – which was announced originally in 2013 off the back of the flood improvements work carried out along the River Ness – have already gone over budget by more than £5000, despite the whole project not yet reaching the half-way mark.

Exactly a week before My Ness is due to be discussed publicly at a specially-convened meeting of the Inverness city committee, leading opponents have labelled the project a "shambles" and "a debacle".

The OpenNess group was formed earlier this year in the wake of the revelation that planning permission for My Ness had been granted behind closed doors by council officers using delegated powers.

Group chairwoman Helen Smith said: "This whole project has been plagued with problems from the start.

"The whole public consultation around it has been a shambles, but instead of sitting down and addressing the issues people have raised they have just ploughed ahead regardless.

"I don't think there is any justification for forging ahead and just throwing good money after bad.

"The brakes really have to be put on now.

"It is quite staggering to see that almost £105,000 of the £300,000 budget for the My Ness project had already been spent by last November with nothing to show for it on the ground.

"You have to ask whether there is actually enough money left to build it without going into overspend."

Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam, another longstanding critic of the scheme, said: "The whole project is shrouded in unnecessary secrecy though it is not difficult to know why when you look at the financial figures – they are so damning.

"Much of the money has already been spent but there is no sense that there is any real plan to things.

"This is just one almighty public debacle."

Critics have separately criticised a lack of accessibility on the My Ness project after it was confirmed a turning circle for wheelchairs is just 900mm wide.

Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie said it meant wheelchair users like himself would not be able to benefit from the “public” artwork.

“This is a very short-sighted error by these fancy artists who evidently care more about form over function," he said.

"The whole point of art, more so when it involves public funds, is accessibility.

“If this is supposed to be enjoyed in this area – which has a half dozen care homes near by – surely accessibility would have been a bigger priority?

“The statement used in defence is 'as accessible as possible', but that just isn’t good enough. The council’s own occupational therapists could have told them the turning circle for a wheelchair is 1600 to 2000mm."

Inverness provost Helen Carmichael previously raised the prospect of the council having to repay funding partners Creative Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise if a decision was taken to abandon the arts project now.

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: "We retain the right to withdraw or seek reimbursement for our funding if a project differs significantly from the activity set out in the application. We will review our position should changes to the project emerge from the committee meeting."



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