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Planning permission sought for new development at fire-hit eyesore in Inverness


By Alasdair Fraser


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Historic Thornbush House in South Kessock was left gutted after a blaze.
Historic Thornbush House in South Kessock was left gutted after a blaze.

A new commercial development could rise from the ashes of a historic South Kessock building destroyed by fire two years ago.

Flames tore through Thornbush House, beside the old Thornbush Brewery at Kessock Road, in March 2020 with the building’s crumbling remnants demolished and removed last year.

Long before the blaze, the dilapidated 19th century residence had become a much-maligned local “eyesore” used only for storage.

With the site now mostly cleared, Inverness firm Fraser Signs is seeking permission from Highland Council planners to invest a “very sizeable” six-figure sum into creating a brand new modern premises.

It would be a two-storey, dark grey metal-clad building with four parking spaces.

Three scenarios for its use are envisaged, including either a mix of retail or financial/professional services use and separate storage space or for storage space alone.

A design statement by Colin Armstrong Architects says the site, while located within a mixed commercial and residential area, would be unsuitable for housing development because it is surrounded by industrial units.

Firefighters battled at the site in Thornbush Road in 2020. Picture: Gary Anthony
Firefighters battled at the site in Thornbush Road in 2020. Picture: Gary Anthony

Owner Blair Fraser, managing director of Fraser Signs, said: “Before the fire, we had long used the old building as storage for signage materials and other things.

“This new building would replace that storage capacity like-for-like, albeit in a much tidier, better-kept building. As far as I understand from the architect, parking restrictions mean we would be only allowed one tenant to which we could let out a unit. If approved, that could be for retail or office use, or light industrial use such as a workshop, as currently permitted.

“It is a real shame that we lost such a nice, old stone building but the investment would certainly tidy up a site which wasn’t very attractive.”

Mr Fraser acknowledged there had been pressure over the years to renovate the historic building but stressed it had not been financially viable to do so.

He added: “It was always an eyesore. If the plans are approved, it will certainly be more attractive and secure in the future.”

The new building would feature all-ability access and a lift between floors.

All going well, if planning is successful, the company hopes to have the premises ready for use by the end of next year.

The site of the proposed development at Thornbush House which was destoyed by fire.
The site of the proposed development at Thornbush House which was destoyed by fire.

Recently retired Highland councillor Janet Campbell, who long campaigned for the site to be tidied up, welcomed the plan to rejuvenate that part of South Kessock.

She said: “I’m delighted to hear that there are at last concrete proposals to redevelop this site. It was derelict and unsightly for such a long time.

“It would be great to see it being developed for the good of the community there. It would certainly complement the whole area.”

The plan was also warmly welcomed by another former Highland councillor, Peter Corbett, who is now with employability charity the Merkinch Partnership.

He said: “For years, residents there had to put up with a real eyesore on their doorstep.

“It was also very dangerous as access was easy – probably explaining why it eventually burnt to the ground.

“It is sited at a busy part of the road with the harbour and plumbers’ centre nearby, but it is nothing that the locals aren’t used to.

“It is good to see investment, and hopefully the creation of jobs, in that part of the city.”

On March 11, 2020, flames lit up the night sky in Inverness as 31 firefighters fought to extinguish the blaze.

Four Inverness and two Dingwall crews were involved and two juveniles were later charged with offences related to wilful fire-raising.


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