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Highland Council will spend more cash on land by the controversial Gathering Place artwork site by the River Ness; Inverness Angling Club criticises the local authority for "wrecking" a special place

By Alasdair Fraser

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The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.

More public money is to be spent on land at the controversial Gathering Place artwork in Inverness – but Highland Council cannot say how much.

Public funding for the River Ness artworks project, including the much-derided curved walkway near Bught Park, has already topped £790,000.

That sum includes £106,000 of Highland Council spending and a further £286,750 drawn from the council-managed Inverness Common Good Fund.

Lead investor was Creative Scotland with £305,870 spending, while Highlands and Islands Enterprise contributed £66,000.

It has now emerged that council officials will be seeking more funding for works including drainage and other improvements to tidy up land around the site.

The century-old Inverness Angling Club, a long-standing opponent of the project, has reported flooding on nearby pathways and blames the structure’s foundations for blocking natural drainage.

The council claims the problem pre-dates construction.

Angling club officials, who have met with Inverness city area manager David Haas, are also concerned about “mud and mess” left by construction work.

There is further unease about the threat of erosion to the riverbanks caused by altered waterflow.

The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.

A council spokesman said: “The My Ness Art Piece has been constructed in accordance with the terms agreed. It is complete.

“The works referred to under discussion with the Inverness angling club will enhance the amenity of the area adjacent to the art piece.

“As with all contracts, evaluations take place once the work has been completed and this is no exception.

“We are aware of the increasing number of people enjoying the space, which was a fundamental intention of placing the art piece at this location.

“As Inverness Angling Club is a key stakeholder, the discussions have involved club representatives, as we are keen to ensure that the enhancements to amenity being considered are complementary to their activity.

“No final decisions have been taken.”

The spokesman confirmed drainage was among the issues to be tackled, but blamed “pre-existing ponding” on the adjacent public footpath.

Pressed on likely costs, he added: “Once we have concluded the works, we will be able to confirm costs.

The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The Gathering Place locator 20 April 2022. Picture: James Mackenzie.

“These works are not connected with the construction of the art piece. They are separately financed.”

Steve Watt, the angling club’s vice-president and a member for almost 50 years, says his organisation’s worst fears have been realised since the “monstrosity” was built.

Proposed as a focal point to bring people together “to a special place”, he claims the project has wrecked a much-loved scenic spot.

Mr Watt insisted: “The drainage is a new problem. They’ve just made a mess of the place.

“They’ve taken away all of our seats and steps and are meant to be putting those back, along with new paths.

“We’re already seeing erosion of ground around the banks of the structure. It is just a mud bath.

“There used to be natural drainage but they put concrete through it. That’s why people can’t get walking on the path now if it’s raining.

“You can see the flow of the river is starting to cut in now underneath the structure. I’ve pointed that out to them, but they don’t seem to be bothered.

The Gathering Place. Picture: James Mackenzie
The Gathering Place. Picture: James Mackenzie

“We had a meeting with David Haas and he said he would have to scratch around to find money for this.

“There will be landscaping and security cameras installed as well, which won’t be cheap.

“Why do they have to find funding from within other budgets when the council had a contract with a firm to do the original work?

“I’d like to know which clerk of works signed the job off, because it isn’t finished. They’ve left it in a worse state than it was in before.

“What is it going to cost the public? Another £30,000 or £40,000 more?

“It will come from another budget and something else will lose out.”

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