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Highland Council says there will be no going back on River Ness artwork decision despite criticism from Inverness councillors including accusation it is acting like 'some faceless bureaucratic juggernaut'

By Hazel Lawson

HOPES for a U-turn on the go-ahead for a controversial artwork on the banks of the River Ness have been dashed.

Councillors who opposed the scheme have been furious since discovering the My Ness application – consisting of a couple of walls either side of the river near the Ness Islands – was nodded through by Highland Council officials using delegated powers two weeks ago, rather than being put before elected members.

Some have been lobbying for it to be debated and decided on by councillors – and an online petition calling for greater public consultation on the project has gathered more than 780 signatures.

But a council spokeswoman is adamant there is no need for the decision to be challenged as all planning rules were followed, with the local authority lodging the application on December 20, giving people until February 8 to object.

Five objections were received, including one from Ballifeary Community Council, but all arrived after the deadline.

Inverness South councillor Ken Gowans, who resigned from the chairmanship of the city arts working group over a previous so-called tilting pier project for the river which was eventually rejected, said the council was acting like “some faceless bureaucratic juggernaut”.

He added: “If important community organisations and groups are not properly consulted, they will be left feeling disenfranchised from the processes of government.”

Councillor Ken Gowans.
Councillor Ken Gowans.

He wants the matter to be discussed at a special meeting of the council as soon as possible.

Inverness Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam said he had repeatedly asked city Provost Helen Carmichael to call an emergency committee meeting on the matter.

“Had the project been subject to public committee, there is no earthly chance it would not have attracted the necessary public interest,” he said. “The provost and her inner set have shut down public discussion and in doing so, this lamentable scheme has bypassed vital tests of democratic scrutiny.”

Inverness West councillor Bill Boyd said public trust in the council was being eroded as it did not appear to be listening to public opinion.

“This should be considered by the planning committee because it is so controversial. Many of the public’s misgivings would dissolve if there was scrutiny and debate,” he said.

Ballifeary community councillor Helen Smith set up the petition because of a lack of transparency in the decision-making and the possible impact on wildlife. The community council will discuss the matter tomorrow.

Councillor Isabelle MacKenzie (Inverness Millburn), chairwoman of the council's arts working group leading the project, said she did not think there was anything to be concerned about regarding the decision.

Artist Tristan Surtees and Councillor Isabelle MacKenzie, chairwoman of arts working group behind the project.
Artist Tristan Surtees and Councillor Isabelle MacKenzie, chairwoman of arts working group behind the project.

City Provost Helen Carmichael was asked to comment but no response was received.

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: "All agencies such as SEPA and the council's own flood alleviation team were satisfied with the application.

"This, coupled with the high-profile publicity given when the planning permission was applied for in December and the fact that community councils all have access to the weekly list of planning applications and noting that any issues had been resolved, allowed officers to exercise their power to approve without reference to the south planning applications committee.

"As the council has acted in accordance with the legislation and scheme of delegation and done so reasonably, we do not believe there are any grounds to challenge the planning decision."

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