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Dingwall tells council 'we don't trust you'

By Scott Maclennan

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A BREAKDOWN in trust has left a gulf between people in Ross-shire's county town and Highland Council with many feeling they're getting a raw deal from an obstructive local authority which breaks promises, fails to communicate and imposes its will without meaningful consultation.

The hugely controversial imposition of car parking charges, deteriorating services and foot-dragging over the aspirations of community groups keen to boost the pulling power of their town were all flagged with the local authority's new boss when she faced the public at an at times fiery public consultation.

Chief executive Donna Manson's visit to Dingwall came hot on the heels of a last-minute cock-up over the town's Christmas lights switch-on and amidst simmering discontent over the long-term closure of a public footbridge in a popular recreational area and fears from one of her own councillors that parking charges "will see the High Street go down the plughole".

The woman at the helm has stated she wants the local authority to be "a listening council" and that feedback from a long round of face-to-face consultation events will be acted on.

People attending the gathering at Dingwall Academy were invited to offer views on what can be improved and what the council is getting right.

George Murray from Dingwall Community Council stated that the only business person in the room was himself because the rest “do not trust the council.”

Addressing Mrs Manson and budget leader Alister Mckinnon, himself a Dingwall and Seaforth councillor, he said: "There is a rift, a mistrust between the council and the people of Dingwall. It has been a gradual build-up over the years but I think the way the Highland Council has been dealing with issues has not helped and it has not helped any of you whatsoever.”

Mr Murray said two issues - closure of the footbridge across the Thomas Telford-constructed canal and public toilets which had been threatened with closure but are now temporarily shut because of a burst pipe – underline the problem.

“Just that one issue: the bridge itself. The lack of communication is astonishing over that and the toilets. There is a pipe burst – maybe you are going to get it fixed but they have now been closed for several weeks. Trust has disintegrated,” he said.

The evening grew heated over the planned introduction of parking charges to a town which boasts freely available space as one of its major selling points in countering the pull of Inverness and the challenges of online shopping.

Councillor Margaret Paterson said she was giving voice to the “majority” of residents’ frustrations. She said: “I can tell you that the majority of people in Dingwall want you to stop imposing parking charges. And as a council you don’t care how the High Street will go down the plug hole because of it.”

Fellow ward councillor Angela Maclean interjected, stating: “That may be your view, Margaret, but that is not the view of the council and to be fair it is not the view of everyone.”

Cllr Paterson replied: “I am a Dingwall and Seaforth councillor first.”

Mrs Manson said she was willing to look at all the issues raised and report back in January. She said: "I need to think about how we structure staff in the council so that people feel there is an equal service out there."

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