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Campaigners opposed to My Ness artwork in Inverness refuse to back down, despite project winning Highland Council approval

By Scott Maclennan

Protesters outside Highland Council headquarters...Picture: James MacKenzie.
Protesters outside Highland Council headquarters...Picture: James MacKenzie.

OPPONENTS of Inverness’s controversial riverside arts project have vowed to keep the pressure on, despite councillors voting to give the scheme the go-ahead.

Councillors voted 15-7 in favour of continuing the £750,000 project at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon, despite admitting no environmental impact assessment or accessibility study had been carried out in respect of the My Ness development.

They agreed that work – including the creation of a separate children’s artwork and rest space viewing platform – would be completed within the next 18 months and that no extra cash would be spent on the project beyond the amount already agreed.

Members of the OpenNess campaign group had demonstrated outside Highland Council’s HQ ahead of the meeting and vowed afterwards that their fight was not over.

Speaking afterwards, the group’s Helen Smith said the meeting had been “stage-managed” by an administration using “smoke and mirrors” to deflect scrutiny.

She added: “Councillors concerned about the project were simply not allowed to press for answers and were unable to challenge inaccurate information in the report.

“However the council can be sure that, despite the outcome of today’s debate – or perhaps because of it – OpenNess will continue to scrutinise and challenge this and other projects, and we will be working to make sure that they have learned some lessons from this sad saga.

“The council committed recently to being a listening council but, sadly, the shocking performance by the administration at today’s meeting shows that there is a very long road ahead.”

Posing a series of questions to councillors she asked: “What kind of administration do we have in Inverness when it takes a community group like OpenNess to make councillors aware that people with mobility issues, including people in wheelchairs, won’t be able to access the structure? Or did the councillors just not care enough about this to think it merited attention?

“What kind of administration would decide to plough on with a deeply flawed project rather than having the courage to admit that things have gone wrong and that they need to go back to the drawing board to make the best decision for the riverside and city?”

SNP Aird and Loch Ness councillor Emma Knox took issue with the My Ness design on the basis of its inaccessibility for disabled visitors.

She said: “I read a statement defending the current design that said it would be ‘as accessible as possible’.

“If it really was as accessible as possible, surely it would, in fact, be accessible?”

Inverness Ness-side SNP Councillor Ron MacWilliam moved that the riverside arts working group overseeing the project should be disbanded, with all decisions being referred back to the city of Inverness area committee and all projects to be suspended to allow for a full external audit, but was defeated by 15 votes to seven.

Council leader Margaret Davidson insisted My Ness and the other riverside artworks would enrich people’s lives.

“When we go on holiday, we go to places where the artwork is part of the cities,” she said.

“My particular favourite is Wellington, with one small artwork after another, and people walk and enjoy that work every day.

“I wonder how many people actually walk from the Friar’s Bridge back down? When we had a sunny day I walked it and people were sitting on every available space on the riverbank.

“This will provide another place to congregate and I think that is a splendid thing for people.”

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