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Plan to turn Ironworks into a hotel recommended for approval by Highland Council and – if approved – will spell the end of Inverness' main music venue

By Scott Maclennan

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Rose Street view of the Courtyard by Marriot.
Rose Street view of the Courtyard by Marriot.

Redrawn plans for the demolition of the Ironworks and the construction of a £30 million hotel have been recommended for approval by Highland Council.

The application will be decided by the South Planning Applications committee which meet with new members for the first time since the election next week.

Real estate investment firm Bricks Group have been trying for years without success to redevelop the Ironworks live music venue site on Academy Street as a Courtyard By Marriott hotel.

Bricks claimed the Courtyard By Marriott Hotel would accommodate up to 100,000 visitors a year, providing a major boost for Academy Street which would also create 90 construction jobs for a two-year period, followed by 65 full-time hotel jobs.

The Courtyard would be a multi storey 155 bedroom hotel with café/bar and restaurant; and a gym at first floor level for guests use as well as a 480 square metre commercial gym facing onto Rose Street.

But the proposals initially received a generally mixed reception as some welcomed the investment while others mourned the loss of the city’s premier music venue and it was refused planning permission in December 2020.

Councillors slated the original plans as unattractive and out of keeping with its surroundings while the council’s Historic Environment Team said the design was “monolithic”, “featureless” and “devoid of architectural quality.”

That sparked a redrawn application by CRGP Architects after Bricks said they “listened and learned” through months of close liaison with planners and city centre stakeholders.

Those meetings with the council’s Inverness Design Review Panel seem to have paid off as the executive summary from October last year makes clear:

“The panel is also pleased with the much-improved design and the way the height and finishes have evolved.

“The feature tower also found general favour and the Panel suggested a few final tweaks and consideration to fully enhance the design to ensure it works fully in this important historic setting.”

Now many of the formal objections from the council team holding up the process have been overcome leading to the recommendation for approval on conditions but it will be down to councillors to have the final say.

What Formal Consultees Said

Historic Environment Team (Conservation):

“We had a number of significant concerns that we felt needed further resolution, many that reflected earlier discussions, without which we would not be able to support this application. These related to materials and detailing of main bedroom block; successful screening of roof top plant; addition of windows in Rose Street elevation; and public realm provision. Following further discussions and amendments to the scheme, these concerns have largely been resolved or can be addressed through conditions. Consequently, we have no objection to the proposals.”

Transport Planning Team:

No objection subject to the imposition of conditions relating to construction traffic management; travel plan; footway crossing details on Manse Place; coach pick up and drop off arrangements; cycle parking provision; waste storage and collection; restrictions on use of commercial unit and proposed gym; and securing developer contributions in lieu of parking deficit and additional contributions towards streetscape improvement works on Rose Street leading to Academy Street.

Historic Environment Scotland:

“Our interest in this consultation is the potential for the proposals to affect the setting of the category ‘A’ listed Old High Church which comprises a late 16th century tower and church dating to 1769-72, with later additions. The square church tower and its octagonal spire are distinctive features in the Inverness skyline, especially when viewed from a distance. Key views to the church from the opposing side of the River Ness would be most affected by the proposals. When viewed from directly across the river, the proposed new building would be seen behind the distinctive silhouette of the church’s northwest flank. This would be a change to these views that would make parts of the church less prominent. However, because of their relative height, the tower and spire of the church would retain their prominence as a feature of the skyline. We are therefore satisfied that the potential impacts on the setting of the Old High Church do not raise such issues that we would object to the proposed development. We have no comments to make in terms of our interest from a Scheduled Monuments perspective in relation to the site of the Dominican friary and effigy of a knight on Friars' Street.”

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