News that the contract has been awarded for work to start on the controversial My Ness public art work in Inverness has sparked numerous concerns from campaign group Open Ness.
The group has been campaigning for more transparency and public consultation in Highland Council’s decision making process.
They have already expressed strong reservations about the project which replaces the unpopular Tilting Pier/My Gathering Place concept.
These include the environmental impact of the amphitheatre-style wall, which needs to be pile-driven into the river.
Open Ness spokeswoman Helen Smith said the planning team could not answer how many concrete piles would be required, nor the depth they will be required to be driven down, possibly more than 30ft through the shingle of the river bed, until bedrock is reached.
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “The tender has allowed for three piles but it is hoped that we will only require two piles, this will be finalised after the detailed design has taken place.”
Mrs Smith said Open Ness is concerned that the contract awarded is a ‘design and build’ contract, meaning that it will be up to the contractor, Simpsons of Beauly, to overcome the design challenges.
She said: “It makes you wonder that the artists and architects got paid for, creating something with multiple challenges that the contractor has to sort out.”
The Highland Council spokeswoman said the project will be built in accordance with the concept design agreed and in line with planning permission granted.
She said: “The detailed design requires to be agreed by the artists before commencement.”
Accessibility has been a cornerstone of Open Ness’s criticism of the piece.
Mrs Smith said: “The wall is not wide enough for wheelchairs, not designed for them to turn at the end and not safe for children or visually impaired users.”
The council says the work has been designed to allow wheelchairs safe access to and from the art piece.
The spokeswoman said: “The use of the art piece will be risk assessed and the construction contractor and the artists are working closely to ensure that art piece is built to specifications which meet health and safety requirements in accordance with regulations.”
Open Ness says there is another glaring discrepancy in the project, putting it at odds with another public art piece originally destined for the riverside.
Mrs Smith said the viewing platform Rest Space is now to be installed in Torvean rather than by the Ness because of changes in health and safety legislation.
The wall is far closer to the water, especially where it juts out over the river, Open Ness says.
The council spokeswoman said: “The same regulations are applicable and the art piece will meet all legal standards and requirements applicable.”
Open Ness is now organising itself as a membership organisation and is holding its first meeting on Monday in the Spectrum Centre, Inverness.