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Nairn Riverside stalwart's last wish to make bridge accessible

By Federica Stefani

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Murdo Dunbar on the Firhall Bridge.
Murdo Dunbar on the Firhall Bridge.

A MAN who has been campaigning to make a popular bridge accessible to everyone for more than two decades is now calling for help from the community after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Murdoch Dunbar (84), a former Cameron Highlander, has been calling for a ramp to be installed at the Firhall Bridge for many years.

A well-known face in Nairn, he has been an unofficial “warden” for the riverside for many years, implementing many improvements himself.

He believes the Firhall Bridge needs a ramp to make it accessible for people with wheelchairs, prams or mobility impairments.

“I have been campaigning for this ramp to be built for over 20 years,” he said.

Murdoch Dunbar with Isla on another bridge on the River Nairn. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Murdoch Dunbar with Isla on another bridge on the River Nairn. Picture: Callum Mackay.

“It’s not about me, it’s about providing everyone access to a popular walk. One thing I want to highlight is that, by preventing me from crossing the bridge, my human rights are being interfered with. This is not just for for me, but for all the people who are disabled.”

“I have been told many times that I could cross the bridge, asked “what are you concerned about?” But I am concerned about other people that cannot cross the bridge.”

For many years he has been calling for the council and elected representatives, as well as other local groups, to get behind the project.

In a letter dating back to December 2014, a representative of the 39 Engineer Regiment in Kinloss said the garrison would be happy to assist with the set up of the ramp if Highland Council provided the funding for the materials and an updated survey – which could not be provided due to lack of funding.

The matter was not brought forward due both to the state of the surrounding footpath – which is currently not safe to access on a wheelchair – and the narrowness of the bridge itself, with many stating that a new bridge should be built altogether.

However, Two weeks ago, Mr Dunbar was diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer and given only a few weeks to live.

“That is why I want this to have imminent attention,” he said. “I want this done and I don’t have more time to get this done.

“I hope there will be people taking up this challenge and getting behind it when I am no longer there,” he said.

“There is funding available and, after speaking with the military at Kinloss, they said in the past that they would be happy to set up the ramp if Highland Council asked them and provided the funding.

“It’s a popular place – according to the latest figures available, in 2015 there were 47,000 people crossing the bridge. With so many people being disabled or mothers with their babies, too many are being prevented from going across.”

Mr Dunbar’s efforts to improve the riverside over the years include carrying out path repairs, bench repairs and clearance of the bank so people can enjoy the views.

He has also decorated a tree every Christmas at Whinnieknowe Pool for local children and their parents though he had to pass the baton on last year.

Nairn Provist Laurie Fraser said the hope is to make the bridge accessible in the future as part of a long-term project.

He said: “Unfortunately this is part of a long-term project. Developments are now in the planning phase for the Jubilee Bridge and the part of the river closer to the town. So the hope is that we will get to upgrade the Firhall Bridge in the future hopefully, but it’s something that will take a long time.”

Talking about available funding for core paths in the region, a Highland Council spokesperson said: “At present this financial year, HiTrans has allocated £25,000 to core path improvements in Highland and there is approximately £20,000 remaining of place- based recovery funding. In the next financial year we will seek other funding as it becomes available and suggest appropriate core path improvement works. We will always try to make core paths accessible as possible but this will vary dependent upon location, terrain, vegetation and other factors including available funds.

“Community, land managing or charity organisations can always apply for available funds to improve core paths from various sources such as Paths For All, Sustrans, Coastal Communities Fund, Lottery funds and others. We are very happy to advise and work with them.”

Seamus McArdle, of the Nairn Access Panel, said: “We always wanted to promote access for everyone around Nairn and any advancement in this sense will always be welcome.

“As a small team of volunteers we have to focus on projects which are in our opinion of greater relevance, such as accessibility to the Jubilee Bridge. The paths around the Firhall Bridge should also be maintained as they are not wheelchair accessible at the moment.

“It would be great to see people who supported Murd and his campaign come together as a campaign group. There have been recent examples of communities coming together to raise funds for these projects, and seeing them coming to fruition earlier. It’s a big task. I have sympathy for the council as at the moment they are short on funding for the most fundamental things.”

Mr Dunbar said: “Sadly I won’t be there to appreciate the benefits.

“But I am still campaigning for others, for the benefits of all disabled.”

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