A CAMPAIGN to reopen one of Ross-shire’s best-known landmarks to the public was yesterday gaining momentum, with hundreds of people backing a petition and the area’s MP demanding access.
The monument to war hero Hector MacDonald, known as ‘Fighting Mac’, is 100ft high and commands a superb panorama across Dingwall and miles beyond.
Generations of people remember having free access to the tower and hopes are high it could be developed as a major visitor attraction, tapping into the success of the North Coast 500 route and Invergordon’s record-breaking cruise liner trade.
But Highland Council, which has responsibility for the monument, has refused to take on liability for such a venture, citing hotly disputed health and safety concerns.
Now, Ian Blackford MP, who has a constituency office in Dingwall and is leader of the SNP at Westminster, has requested access to the tower to see for himself. He told the Ross-shire Journal: “This issue has rumbled on for some time and as the public interest shows, needs resolved quickly. I have written to Highland Council’s director of community services, William Gilfillan, to ask that he attends a meeting with myself and other local community representatives.
“I am eager to get the community and the council round the table and thrash out the best way forward for Fighting Mac’s monument. I have also written to the ward manager to request a site visit so I can see for myself the locally disputed health and safety concerns.”
More than 400 people have already signed a petition pressing Highland Council to take action. It states: “The time for excuses has passed, we have been let down far too often by officials.”
Its instigator, George Murray, who is leading moves for a business improvement district in the town, said he was delighted but not surprised by the public response.
He said: “The council never understood the monument is more than just a local landmark with a nice view – in our area the MacDonald monument is a source of pride. The first man to ever make it from private to general in the history of the British army was a local from the Black Isle and people are proud of that history, why wouldn’t they be?”
He said: “What that shows is just how big the disconnect between the people and the council really is – I suspect its own officials are out of touch with the new chief executive, at least she listens.
“People are saying how they loved going up there as a child and how good it would be for education – the closure has really hurt the town.”
Dingwall Community Council chairman Jack Shepherd said support for the petition was a good indication of the strength of feeling towards getting the monument reopened.
One who signed the petition, Iona McAuley,said: “I used to love visiting the monument every Thursday evening with the Dingwall in Bloom group. I often take my children up to sit at the canons and tell them the story behind it. I have promised one day I’ll take them inside – hopefully in the near future.”
Another, Ireneusz Grochowski, said: “It would be great to see Dingwall from the top of the monument. I think it will be an amazing viewpoint for villagers and tourists.”
A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “The council has offered a community buyout and are waiting to hear if this is a proposal the group want to progress. We are following the findings of the health and safety report that highlighted a number of issues. Our insurance section has also advised us that the council would be unable to insure the monument for this public kind of use.”
The petition can be viewed at www.change.org/p/the-highland-council-open-the-hector-macdonald-monument-to-the-public
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