Inverness river art projects on hold for crisis meeting

© DC ThomsonInverness Councillor Ron MacWilliam at the proposed site of the public art on the River Ness in Inverness.
Inverness Councillor Ron MacWilliam at the proposed site of the public art on the River Ness in Inverness.

Highland Council has announced there will be no further work on the controversial city riverside art projects until they hold a special meeting in August.

The shock move comes amid critics’ accusations of secrecy and lack of transparency over its three current public art projects, part of a £750k programme of work.

After the intervention of chief executive Donna Manson, the council has agreed to hold a special meeting of the City of Inverness committee to discuss the beleaguered Inverness River Arts project.

The meeting will be held on August 20 in council HQ in Glenurquhart Road, rather than in the committee’s usual Town House venue.

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The council chamber has more space for the public to attend.

The council says meantime no building work on any of the three projects in question – My Ness, the children’s water feature and Rest Space – will progress.

The Gathering Place, the former controversial Tilting Pier project, now known as My Ness, is in tender negotiations to identify a suitable contractor to construct the artists’ design.

The children’s water feature will not be progressed until further discussions have taken place with members, the council said.

New health and safety concerns are also a factor holding the work back.

The council said the viewing platforms out over the river, now known as Rest Space (Steps) will also not be progressed until assessments have been reported to members.

Inverness councillor Ron MacWilliam has been a longstanding critic of the way the Riverside Arts project has been handled, describing the process as secretive and behind closed doors.

He said the announcement of the special meeting was ‘a triumph for transparency.’

He said: “It’s quite clear that this issue has been kept very quiet and away from the public glare as much as possible.

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“This will be the first time that the arts project that they were planning to install this summer will have been debated in public.”

Mr MacWilliam said he had been asking for months for a financial breakdown of the project.

He said: “I have been given the information now. I can’t share it publicly, but I think people will be aghast when they see how little has been built given how much money has already been spent.

“This meeting will shine a very bright light on what has been a very secretive process up until now.

“They cannot resist the statutory democratic procedure.

“They’ve been forced into having the meeting.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “Discussions have been taking place as to the best timing for this meeting to allow maximum transparency.

“Normally, a requisitioned committee would take place within 14 days – however it has been agreed with the member who made the request, that the meeting will be held on 20 August, after the school holidays when many members and families are away.”

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The council last week refused to accept a 2,300 signature  petition by protest group Open Ness, led by Ballifeary resident Helen Smith, for the projects to be brought before south planning committee rather than approved by planners under delegated powers without public discussion.

Mrs Smith said: “The council’s attitude throughout has been a total puzzle.

“They have told us that decisions were taken by the Inverness City Arts Working group and approved at regular meetings of the City of Inverness committee.

“But approving decisions and approving minutes are two different things.

“If the chief executive has taken an interest we now hope for a rigorous, well-thought through examination of what happens next.

“We have consistently asked for answers for our concerns about flooding, wildlife and accessibility and so far the responses have not been very transparent.”