Anglers claim plans for new riverside artwork at Highland beauty spot reveal safety risks
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Detailed plans for a controversial artwork on the banks of the River Ness reveal an unacceptable safety risk for anglers and the general public, it has been claimed.
As preparatory work began this week on the Gathering Place, Inverness Angling Club said club representatives had "unofficially" seen plans for the first time after being kept in the dark for months over crucial detail.
Work on the landmark, which has been designed as an amphitheatre with curved walls on either side of the river near Bught Park, is due to be completed by early summer.
But the club says the plans show that the proposed wall extends further into a deep fast-flowing section of the river than indicated in artists’ impressions and is calling on Highland Council to address its concerns before major construction work begins.
Opponents of the Gathering Place share the anglers’ concerns, and Inverness West councillor Bill Boyd also acknowledged worries.
The club said the depth of the water at the wall’s furthest pillar in moderate conditions would be around 1.3m – just below an angler’s waist. But the plans show the wall extends over 2m beyond the pillar at a point where the bed of the river shelves into deeper water.
The club believes this could risk the safety of anglers tempted to wade round the point of the wall to continue fishing.
The only alternative would be to leave the river, negotiate the wall and fish several metres downstream, denying access to a significant stretch of productive salmon water.
Club president Alex Elliott said: "We have always had serious concerns about the extent of the wall’s intrusion into the river. It is a potential threat to the safety of anglers.
"There is also a threat to the general public.
"Anyone accidentally falling off the end of the wall would be going into fairly fast, deep water, from which they may have to be rescued."
He also said the action of medium to high water on the pillars and point of the wall would cause a significant eddy – or current.
"This is likely to shift gravel, interfere with the beach and fundamentally change the nature of one of the most attractive pools on the river," he said.
"As far as we know, this has not been properly assessed by hydrologists."
Mr Elliott said the club had asked the council for detailed plans for months, but had only been shown artists’ impressions.
"As a result, we have been unable to assess the full impact of the project until now," he said.
"These major concerns must be resolved before major construction works begin.
"We are disappointed by the council’s potentially unsafe decisions on this.
"Unlike others, we have raised no objections to the art project. We co-operated fully with the council and trusted councillors and staff to consider our interests, but it appears our trust has been misplaced and we have been kept in the dark over crucial detail."
Helen Smith, chairwoman of Ballifeary Community Council and a member of the OpenNess campaign group, said the details of the design had been "very fluid" throughout the project.
"I think it should be stopped at this stage," she said. "Anything jutting out into the river bed must be a safety concern."
Cllr Boyd felt the project should be paused so details could be carefully examined.
"I am worried," he said. "We don’t really know what the effects will be on the river – it is quite fast-flowing there."
A council spokeswoman said: "Office bearers of Inverness Angling Club have confirmed to Highland Council that they remain in support of the project."
She said the council was complying with the terms of the planning permission granted in 2019.
"The council remains in discussion with Inverness Angling Club as a key stakeholder, noting the importance of the site and their key connection with the river," she added.
Related story: Work set to start on controversial riverside artwork