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Highland Council to consider funding bids to rejuvenate Inverness – but admit projects lack innovation after ‘running out of time’

The Victorian Market, Inverness.
The Victorian Market, Inverness.

Three projects which could rejuvenate the centre of Inverness will go head-to-head in a funding battle tomorrow.

Highland Council will consider three bids vying for a share of the Scottish Government’s £500,000 town centre fund – ranging from an upgrade of the Victorian market to a new system that will light up landmarks at night.

To be eligible for consideration, the projects must either be designed to repurpose the buildings, improve access or improve infrastructure.

But some councillors have raised concerns about the shortlisted projects, arguing they were selected without consultation to a very tight timescale – and lack innovation as a result.

Money has been requested to help towards phase two of Inverness Creative Academy, the redevelopment of the Victorian Market and for mobile equipment for lighting town centre buildings at night.

Five other projects – including upgrades to Ardersier Skate Park and the Fishermen’s Hut at Bught Park – have been ruled ineligible.

Last night, Ness-side councillor Ron MacWilliam said: “It’s six months since the town centre funding was announced, and the three projects were decided on behind closed doors,  not by the city committee.

“The investment needs to be applied imaginatively to have the intended effect and that’s what the council is failing to achieve.”

Inverness West councill Alex Graham added: “The council has to commit to the projects by March, with the money to be spent by October 2020.

“This has meant some interesting but limited proposals have come forward.”

Proposals to redevelop the Victorian Market come in at £1.5m, with Inverness Common Good Fund and Highland Council bidding for £300,000 towards it from the Town Centre fund.

However, the proposals come as a number of traders wait to find out if they will be evicted from the market to make way for a food and drinks area.

Mr Graham said: “We can’t make any decisions about the committing money for the Victorian Market from the town centre fund until the proposals for the market are agreed.”

Inverness Creative Academy is looking for £250,000 towards making a large social enterprise cafe surrounded by exhibition, workshop and events spaces in their new Wasps space in Midmills.

Phase two of the £3.3m the project also includes creating affordable workspace for freelancers, start-ups and visiting organisations.

Meanwhile, Highland Council is promising transformational results from its own bid.

It is seeking £150,000 from the fund to buy mobile lighting projectors for a three-day event which will illuminate a number of sites across the city.

The council said although the equipment is mobile, and therefore not an exact fit with the fund’s criteria, it can still be considered town infrastructure.

But Councillor Alasdair Christie admitted he had doubts about some of the projects.

He said: “We ran out of time. We could have come up with other, better schemes with more time.

“We will have to wait to hear the cases made at the meeting.”

Members of the committee will be asked to prioritise the projects in order to allocate the funding appropriately.

The projects under consideration

  • Inverness Creative Studio, Midmills – £250,000
  • Victorian Market – £300,000
  • River Lights – £150,000

The projects ruled ineligible

  • Dr Black Memorial hall –application withdrawn.
  • Ardersier Skate Park – £85,600 towards replacing old skate park
  • The Pavilion Ardersier – £40,000 towards refurbishment
  • Inverness Campus Sports Pitch – £150,000 towards £915,000 total for full size 3G synthetic pitch
  • Fisherman’s Hut, Bught Park – £20,000 to rebuild outdated hut