Plans for a multimillion-pound revamp of the retail heart of the Highland capital have been dealt a massive blow.
Bosses at the Eastgate Centre in Inverness tabled proposals for four new restaurant units facing on to Falcon Square and an extension to the existing Filling Station round to the historic Laura Ashley building.
Yesterday members of the local authority’s south planning committee backed the new eateries – but rejected the Filling Station extension.
Eastgate chiefs will have to go back to the drawing board after committee members ruled the planned transformation of the C-listed Filling Station building in Academy Street would contravene local policy in a conservation area.
Councillors also decided the design would conflict with the city-centre brief by “failing to protect and enhance its rich and diverse cultural and natural heritage”.
The Eastgate Unit Trust had applied to extend the property on to the gable elevation of the adjacent Falconer Building.
The proposals are part of a package which could eventually involve the Laura Ashley premises becoming a restaurant and the centre boasting a rooftop bar and dining area.
The redevelopment could also pave the way for extended opening hours at the shopping centre.
City councillor Donnie Kerr criticised the design of the extension and bin storage proposals.
Committee colleague Thomas MacLennan described the proposed extension as “devoid of any architectural merit”.
He said: “It needs some sort of enhancement. It’s a prominent location and we should do something a bit more fitting.”
Inverness member Thomas Prag agreed, proposing that the planning application be blocked “on the grounds of design not enhancing the environment of a conservation area”.
The developers could not be contacted last night.
Business leaders, however, welcomed the council’s approval of the other plans.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive, Stewart Nicol, said: “I understand that what we need to be doing is getting Falcon Square right because it’s a good city-centre venue.
“I’m not sure we make the most of it, currently. It’s got the potential of being a really special civic space right in the heart of the city centre and it’s not that just now. It’s pleasant but we need to be careful.
“I thought the designs had merit. I thought it was innovative and modern looking, so I can understand the committee’s concerns that we need to get this right.
“Presumably the developers will meet with the planning officials to understand more the particular concerns to see if there’s a modification to the design that will address the councillors’ concerns.”
Eastgate bosses hope the new ground floor restaurants will be open for business within a year.
The full proposals, if ultimately accepted in a different form, would add 4,575sq ft to the centre plus an outdoor seating area of 1,260sq ft.
The creation of a new bar and restaurant on the roof of the Eastgate Centre is expected to follow as a second phase of the work.
The proposals were first suggested in January by Scoop Asset Management, which bought the Eastgate last summer from BMO Real Estate Partners as part of a £116million deal.