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Controversial new Highland Gathering Place riverside artwork attracts further flack after disabled ramblers struggle to access it

By Val Sweeney

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Members of the Highland Disabled Ramblers at the Gathering Place in Inverness.
Members of the Highland Disabled Ramblers at the Gathering Place in Inverness.

Members of a disability group have joined the chorus of criticism against a controversial new riverside artwork in the Highland capital after being unable to access it.

Highland Disabled Ramblers members visited the Gathering Place during a scooter ramble.

The structure, an amphitheatre with curved walls on either side of the River Ness, was recently completed at a cost of £262,246.

But members discovered they were unable to access the pier’s viewing point.

Elspeth Kennedy, secretary of the group, said one volunteer did a trial run to the end point but was unable to turn round and had to reverse all the way back.

“He is the best person I know at manoeuvring scooters,” she said. “I thought if he finds it difficult, less experienced folk would have even more difficulty.”

A sharp right-hand bend to access the structure also presented difficulties and Miss Kennedy felt it might have been easier if the corners were more rounded.

“I feel disappointed that it is inaccessible – although I had anticipated it would be a problem,” she said.

“I just wonder if the designers or the councillors actually spoke to disability groups or individual disabled people for advice.”

The Gathering Place forms part of Highland Council’s £758,350 River Connections Public Art Programme.

Inverness South councillor and wheelchair user Andrew Jarvie said the accessibility problems heightened the sense of exclusion.

He had constantly called for the structure to be designed to be accessible.

“With the initial design there was no ability to turn whatsoever,” said Cllr Jarvie, maintaining he had been told it did not need to be accessible as it was an artwork,

Although the design was eventually changed, Cllr Jarvie remained unconvinced and said while he had managed to turn his wheelchair around, it was very tight.

“The first time I went down there was a pram left at the end and a woman was carrying her child because she couldn’t get the pram on it,” he said.

Inverness disability rights campaigner David Sansum also found it “very tight” to turn his wheelchair.

Wheelchair user David Sansum at the Gathering Place.
Wheelchair user David Sansum at the Gathering Place.

“A few people were waiting to get on while I was there and couldn’t pass me.

“I think those who are vulnerable or not confident in a wheelchair would not want to approach it.”

Mr Sansum felt the money could have been better spent but given the project had gone ahead, he felt it should have been wider

A Highland Council spokesman said it been built in compliance with all statutory permissions and that the original design fulfilled the accessibility requirements for such a structure.

“Following discussions with stakeholders and decisions taken by the Inverness area committee, alterations were included within the final design which incorporated a turning space at the end of the pier section extending to 1500mm,” he said.

“This acted to increase accessibility. The plans were discussed with representatives of the former Inverness Disability Access Panel and no objections were raised.

“The turning space assists those taking wheeled access to the art piece.”

He added: “We welcome comment from users, which to date have been positive noting that the art piece has been open for public use since October 7, and in this regard interested parties are encouraged to contact the council through the service centre.”

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