A prominent eyesore building in the heart of Inverness is finally poised to be put up for sale – after lying empty for a year-and-a-half.
Hopes have been raised the former Inverness College building in the Longman area of the city could soon be torn down and replaced with a worthy landmark.
The Press and Journal has learned that the 1960s-built complex will go on the market “very soon”, with various parties having already expressed an interest.
North business leaders hailed the move last night as offering a major opportunity “to do something really quite spectacular”, and called for an “aspirational vision” for the site at the key gateway to Inverness.
But there were also calls for the building to be bulldozed before it goes up for sale to try to attract potential buyers.
The news emerged as councillors prepare to approve plans for a £23million justice centre at a site next door to the former college at a meeting in the city today.
The disposal of the college is currently in the hands of the Scottish Futures Trust, a not-for-profit arm of the Scottish Government whose role is to secure good value for taxpayers.
A spokesman for the agency said: “We’re working with the Scottish Funding Council on the sale of the vacant Longman Campus.
“The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) is buying the car park area of the Longman site to enable delivery of the new Inverness justice centre.
“We anticipate the remainder of the Longman site will come to market very soon.”
It is understood that the marketing will be handled by joint agents Shepherd, and Lambert Smith Hampton, which handled the sale of part of the 1.2-acre Longman Road-Harbour Road site to the SCTS.
Highland Council officials yesterday (MON) played down a previous expression of interest in the site.
The local authority last year had private discussions about a potential bid for the redundant campus, which has lain boarded since the summer of 2015, when the college moved to a new £50million campus at Beechwood.
Council leader Margaret Davidson suggested in November that the authority was considering use of the site related to the city’s nearby proposed £23million justice centre.
However, speaking yesterday, the authority’s head of development and regeneration Allan Maguire said: “There are no current proposals for the council to purchase this site.”
Community and business leaders last night celebrated news that it would soon go on the market, however.
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol was thrilled at the prospect of change.
He said: “It’s really good news and positive that things are finally moving ahead.
“We can’t escape the fact that it’s a 1960s block of concrete. It’s a key site, the main route in and out of the city centre. It dominates the commercial park and I think it will be good to see the existing building demolished.
“It’s a large piece of real estate that there’s an opportunity to do something really quite spectacular on, to enhance the environs of that route into Inverness.
“I’d hope that when we get towards the sale of the site and the plans for something to replace it we have that kind of aspirational vision and thinking around the potential uses of it.”
He suggested something modern to fit in with the adjacent modern police station.
“Whether it’s a single use or multi occupancy – a science park or innovations centre – I think there are lots of opportunities,” he said. “It’s well placed for connectivity to the rail station and Rose Street car park.
“I’d be hopeful that it’ll be an easy piece of ground to sell because of the potential there is.”
Crown and City Centre Community Council chairwoman Pat Hayden said: “It will need to be demolished because nobody’s going to want to use a building like that.
“I’m sorry it’s taken so long to do this. On paper, the new justice centre looks wonderful, so you really don’t want this ugly building next door.”
Architect and Inverness Civic Trust chairman James Maxwell said: “As I understand it, there is asbestos. Therefore to make it more attractive to developers, my suspicion is that the college building should be sold as a demolished site, if that is financially feasible.”
Praising the architectural quality of the planned justice centre, he said it would be a “great shame” if the college building compromised that and urged councillors not to allow the college site to be developed as another car showroom.