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Campaigners step up bid to reopen Dingwall monument

By Scott Maclennan

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A campaign to re-open the MacDonald Monument to visitors has been mounted.
A campaign to re-open the MacDonald Monument to visitors has been mounted.

Two of the county's leading politicians have backed a campaign launched by frustrated community groups in Dingwall to reopen the 100ft MacDonald Monument, freeing it from health and safety red tape and realising its potential as a visitor attraction.

After almost three years of trying, the Dingwall Community Council (DCC) and the local development company have launched an online petition to get the local authority to take action.

Their campaign has been backed by Ian Blackford MP, who said the situation “defies all logic” and Kate Forbes MSP who believes it is “ridiculous” the monument is closed.

The community council, which started fighting to reopen the monument in April 2016, insist Highland Council claims it is dangerous and could not be insured for public use are “rubbish”.

Chairman of the community council, Jack Shepherd, who is a health and safety expert, said: “It has become very, very frustrating now – the cynic in me suspects they want to keep all the tourists in Inverness.

“Outwardly they have looked helpful but really they have not been – they are using health and safety as an excuse to do nothing.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “It is a bit unfair to say the council has not been helpful” because it is basing its findings on a report commissioned to evaluate the proposal.

That report “highlighted numerous access/egress health and safety concerns” about the thin spiral stone staircase which it claimed would “make it extremely difficult to remove anyone who required to be evacuated”.

Mr Shepherd hit back: “That is a load of rubbish. I went there with the head of a local fire service unit and he told me that you can get someone out of there on a stretcher.”

He also mentioned the Wallace Monument near Stirling which has an almost identical but narrower staircase but remains open despite an injured tourist being evacuated by helicopter in 2015.

Mr Blackford said: “I am fully behind this campaign. For Dingwall to have such an important landmark not in use defies all logic. Dingwall Community Council, Dingwall Community Development Company, Dingwall’s BID project, and local councillor Graham MacKenzie have led the way on this and Highland Council now need to step up to the plate.

“There is constant discussion regarding local funding, well here we have a potential revenue stream that’s been lying dormant for close to three years – it’s not good enough.”

George Murray, manager of the Business Improvement District project, agreed saying: “What makes this whole situation incomprehensible is the council say they are looking for ways to generate revenue but then do everything in their power to stare this gift horse in the mouth for as long as possible.

“I tell you that there is a business case for opening the monument to tourists and locals alike for a small charge with managed access and that it would be a very, very welcome attraction to the town.

He added: “They are pushing for a wholly unwelcome community buy out, something that would take a very long time to conclude meaning we would again miss out on another summer when we could really attract tourists. Plus, the council controls the access – who in their right mind would buy a house in someone else’s garden.

“What I would say to the council is, it is a new year, there is a new chief executive in charge, we are here, we are ready, let’s work together and do something positive for Dingwall.”

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