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Abuse, demonstrations and a divided community: Is the end in sight for a bitter dispute on the Black Isle?

The North Kessock bottle bank saga has rumbled on for nearly five years.
The North Kessock bottle bank saga has rumbled on for nearly five years.

Could a bitter dispute on the Black Isle, which has divided a community for the best part of five years, finally be nearing a resolution?

Mediators were called with the police even requested on occasion.

It has reached the point where a ballot needs to be held to finally reach a resolution.

With the power in the hands of the people, just what could the dispute relate to?

The answer: the placement of North Kessock’s bottle bank.

The bottle banks are currently located in the Ferry Brae area of North Kessock

Bottle bank dispute dates back to 2017

At present, the bottle banks are located in their temporary location on Ferry Brae.

They had previously been located at the village’s main waterfront car park, but were removed as the pier ticket office underwent refurbishment in 2018.

It was agreed at a community meeting in 2017 that the banks would be relocated during work.

A coastal garden was also created as part of efforts undertaken by North Kessock Ticket Office Project (NKTOP).

However, despite efforts by Highland Council to have the bottle banks returned to the village’s main car park, the recycling facilities are yet to return.

A coastal garden was created as part of the efforts by North Kessock Ticket Office Project

The bottle banks were returned on two occasions but were then then moved by “persons unknown”.

They once ended up near to the lifeboat station below the Kessock Bridge and are now located near to the village’s football park and bowling green.

The dispute seemed to be resolved in 2019 when Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson wrote to the community signalling that the bottle banks were to return to their original location where they had been for more than two decades.

However, despite the chief’s intervention, the bottle banks remain in Ferry Brae.

The bottle banks have been moved several times around North Kessock

Main car park vs Ferry Brae

The row has over the years escalated to involve demonstrations attended by police, obstructions and abuse towards council staff, community council members and councillors.

Petitions and counter-petitions have also been submitted.

Some wish for the bottle banks to remain out of the main part of the village with others arguing that they should return to the main car park.

With no resolution, the local authority is now balloting locals on their preferred location.

Locals to decide

Those living within the catchment area of the village’s primary school are permitted to vote.

Voters have until February 28 to cast their ballot with the operation being handled by Highland Council’s election team.

The use of a ballot – which has already cost Highland Council more than £900 – was decided by Highland Council’s communities and places committee on November 25, 2020.

Councillors described the measure as the “only conclusive and democratic way to resolve the situation”.

Residents are being asked if they’d prefer the bottle bank to remain in Ferry Brae or be returned to the village’s main car park.

Highland Council say in correspondence to residents that the ballot is the “final solution”.

The local authority say: “There appears to be no other way of bringing these matters to a conclusion”.

Highland Council’s election team will administer the count on March 1.

‘Money, effort and time has been wasted’

Knockbain Community Council chairman John Stott has said he feels Highland Council has been “woefully inadequate” in handling the situation.

He believes lots of money, time and effort has been wasted over the course of the near five-year dispute.

Mr Stott said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would rumble on for nearly five years.

“If Highland Council had stepped up to the plate a long time ago we wouldn’t be in this situation.

“It is a hellish situation. Tens of thousands of pounds has been wasted on this and the ballot is another unneeded expense.

“Our position is that whatever the public decide is our line.”

Locals will now decide by ballot where the bottle banks should be located

Village has expanded since 2017

When approached by The Press and Journal for comment, the board of NKTOP said they did not wish to comment before the ballot took place as this may “bias the outcome”.

In a petition previously submitted to Highland Council, NKTOP argued return to the previous location by the coastal garden would “spoil the atmosphere which has become a sanctuary for many people during lockdown”.

They argued there had been no complaints for 18 months regarding the Ferry Brae location with the village expanding since the original decision in 2017.

NKTOP added that the Ferry Brae location is arguably more central now to the expanding village.

Anne Thomas of the Residents Association of North Kessock (Rank) encouraged people to use their vote.

She said: “Regardless of what has gone on in the past, I think it is important that residents look at it on the merits of where the best place is now really.

“I do welcome the fact that there is a proper ballot. I think this is the fairest way and really the only way that everybody could have a say.

“I really hope that everybody can respect the result.”

There must not be any ‘Trump-like shenanigans’

Local councillor Gordon Adam has said that the issue relating to the bottle banks location was one of the first to arise after he was elected.

He described it as a “running sore” that has been “really damaging to the community”.

Mr Adam said: “There can’t be any Trump-like shenanigans. In other words, we can’t have people not respecting the outcome of the vote.”

He added that he feels Highland Council has not handled the situation in the best possible manner, adding that he feels it is a “highly regrettable” stage to have reached which was “perfectly avoidable”.

Councillor Gordon Adam has called for locals to use their vote

Mr Adam has called on the community to work together moving forward.

He added: “You have got a degree of local activism which has been enhanced by the Covid lockdown and that is of course to be hugely welcomed.

“But a lot of the energy of these community groups has gone on each other because of this unresolved issue.

Noise concerns for customers

Darren Maclachlan, owner of the North Kessock Hotel, has said that he believes the return of the bottle banks to the main car park would serve as an “eyesore” and would bring noise to his customers.

The hotelier said: “Ideally for me and the hotel, I would vouch for them to go up to the football park where they are currently.

“I don’t want noise pollution when I have got people al fresco dining in the height of summer.

“We have a great backdrop of the firth where you can see dolphins playing. Then all of a sudden you are hearing ‘clink, clink’ from the bottle banks.

“I think it will be ludicrous for them to go back there.”

The owner of North Kessock Hotel, Darren Maclachlan, has expressed concern about potential noise

Cost is ‘upsetting’ during times of austerity

Local resident James Bissett said his preferred location would be for the bottle banks to return to the main car park.

He did state however, that if Ferry Brae was chosen as the preferred option, he would support the community’s decision.

Mr Bissett said: “It is quite upsetting that at times of austerity we have got ourselves in this position.

“It is the central hub for the village. The place where you can buy items should be the place where you can recycle them.”


The bottle banks were relocated as the ticket office underwent renovation

One way or another, the dispute should finally be put to bed at the end of the month.