Described by one critic as an ‘unwanted concrete monstrosity’, detailed designs for an Inverness art feature which has bitterly divided opinion for four years have finally been approved, with construction due to begin next year.
Members of the Inverness City Arts Working Group have approved the Sans Façon artist team’s adjusted design for the My Ness Gathering Place project, a curved wall set at the Fisherman’s Hut section of the River Ness as it runs through the city.
The £340,000 wall replaces the original design for what became known as the tilting pier, scrapped in 2016 due to a public outcry.
ICArts Working Group chairwoman councillor Isabelle MacKenzie said the piece will be unique and an asset, while councillor Andrew Jarvie called it an ‘unwanted concrete monstrosity, vanity project and waste of tax payer’s money’.
He said: “Donald Trump may be out of office, but Invernessians have still got their wall.
“It’s a ludicrous waste of public money, especially when the nearby Infirmary Bridge which people are crying out to be fixed, has received zero money.”
Community group OpenNess has been challenging Highland Council’s decision-making processes behind the project for the past two years.
Spokeswoman Helen Smith said the group was very disappointed that the council is persisting with the project ‘despite so much opposition on so many grounds’.
She said: “Money from Highland Council, the Inverness Common Good fund and HIE is being spent on this which could be spent instead on measures to support the many families in Inverness who are facing unemployment and uncertainty, or even put towards the costs of keeping the Infirmary Bridge open.
“On one hand, the council is scrabbling about to find money to avoid having to close this iconic and essential bridge while on the other hand it is throwing public money at building an uninspiring, unnecessary and unwanted concrete ‘piece of art’ a few hundred yards away.”
The group welcomed tweaks in the final design which take into account some of their concerns.
These include rest stops, widening the end of the pier to accommodate a turning circle for wheelchair users and signage which points out the wall is closed during high water events.
Councillor MacKenzie said the piece was intergenerational, where everyone could come together to pause and reflect.
She said: “The project will be unique. I believe that with the artist and designer’s international status that this is an asset to any city.”
Another vocal critic of the project, councillor Ron MacWilliam called it ‘one of the most unimaginative public art commissions of all time’.
He said: “It’s a wall.
“This is one of the most iconic vantage points on the River Ness and it is an act of outrageous environmental vandalism to develop it with concrete and steel.
“Equally offensive is the lost opportunity.
“A budget of that sum could have been used to create something worthy of celebration and to promote the city’s place in the world of art.”
Inverness provost, councillor Helen Carmichael said: “The artists have listened very carefully to all the views.
“We appreciate the time and effort the designers have put into the detail design, without losing the originality of the piece.”