Plans for the structural and external transformation of Inverness Castle into the major tourist hub for the Highlands have been given the nod by councillors.
With the exception of one voice from Lochaber warning the development will not be the great visitor hub owners Highland Council has touted, and is a waste of public money, councillors lent their support to the plans by Moray-based LDN Architects.
Local member Emma Roddick said the plans were impressive.
“”I’m glad they respect what’s there, retaining the charm of the castle.
“It will be a focal point for the visitors and the perfect location to appreciate the whole of the Highlands.
“It’s also impressive that the castle is being made all-ability accessible and will play a huge part in promoting active travel in Inverness.”
Ms Roddick also there welcomed an increase in tree-planting on the site, which will see ambitious outdoor landscaping to improve the public space, expected to be in use 24/7 by visitors and locals.
The £16m project is being funded largely by Highland’s portion of the Scottish Government’s City-Region deal.
Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter, on the record for reflecting his constituents’ resentment at the amount of public money perceived to be spent in Inverness, tinged his praise with bitterness.
He said: “This is an impressive application and one that sees the sensitive conversion and restoration of Inverness Castle.
“As a planning application I support approval on that basis.
“However, this is a focal point for Inverness it isn’t the focal point for the whole of the Highlands that council leader Margaret Davidson tries to pretend.
“On that basis, I would rather not a single penny of taxpayers’ money was spent on this.
“It would be better as a commercial venture.
“The castle would make an ideal, and profitable, boutique hotel.”
Mr Baxter, whose business Glen2Glen tours offers private historical guided tours around Scotland and the Highlands, then gave a no-holds barred historical perspective of the project.
“I am reminded that on two previous occasions visitors from Lochaber arrived and blew up the castle.
“The Jacobites in 1764 to stop it falling into Government hands and in 1689 the MacDonalds of Keppoch from Lochaber laid siege to the castle during the 1st Jacobite uprising.
“That demonstrates the affection for the castle in Lochaber.
“Likewise, when Mary Queen of Scots was denied entry she cut off the gatekeeper’s head and popped it on a spike.
“Maybe we need some spikes ready for the heads of the city leaders when this project is not the Highland-wide success they tell us it will be.
“Instead it will become the Fergus Ewing Folly and the Davidson Memorial Edifice.”
The council leader jibed back: “Your tours must be interesting, councillor Baxter, thank you for your contribution today.”
She turned to her concerns for the project as a terminus, or a starting point, for many long distance walking and cycle routes in Highland, asking planners to ensure this was recognised in the more detailed plans to come.
Councillor Niall McLean was given assurance by councillors that they would look into placing the infrastructure for EV charging points in the seven disabled parking spaces on the remodelled castle esplanade.
Parking has largely been removed from the site, with pedestrian and cycle access encouraged, although there will be drop-off space at the front entrance, behind the Flora MacDonald statue.