MORE than 1,000 people have signed a petition calling on council chiefs to scrap plans to clad an eyesore Inverness building in gold.
The campaign against the £500,000 proposal for the Highland capital’s art gallery and museum on Bridge Street has been inundated with backers since being launched on Friday.
Opponents of the scheme claimed last night that it would be like putting “lipstick on a pig” – and insisted that it was a “waste of money for zero benefit”.
Highland Council chiefs admitted the project had a “Marmite” effect, splitting opinion, but said the money could not be used to protect frontline services from the axe.
City businessman Donald MacKenzie started the online petition on Friday afternoon, and by last night it had attracted 1,080 supporters.
He said: “I’m very pleased by the response so far.
“I’m not pretending that the council has a history of listening to the public, but I wish they would.
“I think the expression ‘lipstick on a pig’ is one which would describe what people feel about it.
“I think it’s a weird use of public money at a time when there are many better uses.”
The £500,000 installation is being funded by a UK Government advance on its City Deal money.
The gold-coloured aluminum cladding is expected to have a life span of up to 10 years, with discussions under way about moving the gallery and museum into a revamped tourist attraction at Inverness Castle.
The plans were approved unanimously at the local authority’s south planning committee earlier this month, but Inverness
Central councillor Donnie Kerr believes the backing is lukewarm at best.
He said: “I remain unconvinced by it. To be honest, the whole thing is quite expensive for a building that I have no love for.
“All that glitters is not gold. I don’t think there was a great deal of enthusiasm among the councillors for it.
“I’m not actually surprised that we’ve got a petition. At a time when we’re laying off staff left, right and centre, it’s very difficult to justify to the public where the money is coming from.”
The controversy follows recent complaints about council spending, including the £760,000 earmarked for a tilting pier and other riverside artworks. Much of the funding for that scheme is ring-fenced.
Inverness South councillor Thomas Prag is a supporter of the plans for the museum and gallery.
He said: “I have not been directly involved, but it seems to me that people have been concerned about how that whole facade, and particularly the museum and gallery, looks, and here is what I think is a very imaginative way of doing something about
“I also think it’s really hard to know what it will look like from the visuals, which isn’t helpful. It looks like some kind of yellow cover, but I think it will be more subtle than that.
“It’s great that people care, but it’s frustrating when somebody has come up with an imaginative design, and we have been given the money to come up with something, that people are still not happy.
“I would encourage folk to give it a chance.”
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “I think it’s definitely a sort of Marmite thing, people love it or hate it.
“But when I look at the alternative – the grey concrete – it will certainly be an improvement on that.
“There’s a lot of confusion about what’s paying for it. It’s not common good money. It’s the first tranche of money from the City Deal.
“It’s about making that place look better for the next five years or so. We need to keep it going for a few years and it needs to be more attractive.”