Inverness Town House will no longer be used for council meetings following a tense vote.
Members of the City of Inverness area committee heard a motion calling for meetings to move back to the town house from the council’s HQ on Glenurquhart Road, where they have been held for the last few months.
It was a fight to the end to keep the historic links to the city centre building, with the committee divided. Chairman Ian Brown used his casting vote to make a final decision – resulting in future council meetings now permanently being held at Glenurquhart Road.
It came after councillors heard it would cost in the region of £75,000 to upgrade the technology within the town house building.
That is in spite of a recent multi-million refurbishment having taken place on the building.
‘Rips councillors out of the heart of the city’
Councillor Duncan Macpherson, Inverness South ward, said: “This decision rips the councillors out of the heart of the city centre at the very time we need to be in the city centre to support business.
“Being in the city centre allowed people to come and watch, and the public could see us at our work.
“We are a Royal burgh and we do not want to lose that to the bigger Highland Council – we want to keep our city and its independence within the wider council area. We want to put Inverness first.
He added: “Why, when we have spent £8 million on the town house are we not using it? There was lottery cash, and council cash in there – and proposals all alluded to it being a civic centre. Well it is not anymore.”
‘Money well spent’
In favour of moving to Glenurquhart Road, Councillor Ken Gowans said: “The money spent on the town house was money well spent to ensure this historic and iconic build is preserved.
“There was no money spent on adding present day technology to the Victorian chamber where even something as basic as voting has to be recorded one vote at a time and there are no facilities for online participation whatsoever, and where the Wi-Fi signal is poor.
“The cost to upgrade the IT to bring it to a basic standard is estimated at £75,000.
“I don’t think spending that sort of money to pander to the vanity of certain councillors would get much support from the people of Inverness and area, when a high-tech chamber is available, for free, just (a) few hundred metres away.”
Was the vote legal?
But today’s decision could be questioned, amid claims standing orders were broken.
It is understood that a member who had not taken part in the debate, and who had indicated his absence from the meeting, was later allowed to vote.
Councillor Helen Crawford, Aird and Loch Ness, said: “Today’s business was not conducted in a fair and transparent way and I have raised it with officers.
“I do not believe the vote is made in compliance with standing orders of the council.”
Highland Council said the vote was “in order”.
A spokeswoman said: “Apart from Regulatory Committees e.g. planning and licensing, members can elect to come and go from meetings.”