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Momentum growing in bid to open Dingwall landmark

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.

A new campaign aims to make 2018 the last year Dingwall’s landmark MacDonald Monument was closed to the public as community groups band together to press for its reopening.

The stunning view from the top of the 100ft tower is considered a golden opportunity to boost the town's visitor pulling power.

An online petition has been launched by Dingwall Community Council, Dingwall Community Development Company and the town’s Bid project to pressure Highland Council to take action.

They have all been pushing to get the memorial tower to Sir Hector MacDonald open since April 2016 but the local authority has not assisted them despite backing a similar viewing tower development at Inverness Castle.

The Dingwall campaign has won the backing of politicians from all levels of government including the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP, public finance minister Kate Forbes MSP and local councillor Graham MacKenzie.

Miss Forbes said: “I think it is ridiculous that the Hector MacDonald Monument is still closed to visitors. There is widespread interest in him as one of Dingwall’s famous sons, and yet the monument is still shut.

“This case has lasted for far too long, with the community council, local residents and myself appealing to Highland Council for a timely conclusion.”

She added: “Every summer that the monument is shut is another summer of missed visitors and opportunities to talk about Hector MacDonald. This is Dingwall’s monument and local people should be allowed to enjoy it. It is high time it was open.”

Her Westminster colleague Mr Blackford said: “I am fully behind this campaign. I would encourage everyone to sign the online petition, join the campaign and let’s get the monument open for residents and tourist to enjoy.

“We have to make Dingwall a destination that people want to come to. We miss out on a lot of the tourist trade here that comes to Inverness and then travels further up the coast bypassing Dingwall.

“The council has a responsibility to maximise our potential and their inaction on this needs addressed and quickly,” he added.

Cllr MacKenzie believes “momentum is growing” saying: “We are hoping to attract more and more cruise visitors to Dingwall and the MacDonald Monument would certainly help with that. At the end of the day the monument is not just a major asset for Dingwall but also for Highland Council.”

The issue is an emotive one for locals. Bid project manager George Murray said: “The MacDonald monument is a source of pride in Dingwall, it is more than just a local landmark: the first man to ever make it from private to general in the history of the British army was a local from the Black Isle and people are proud of that history, why wouldn’t they be?

“I was involved in coach tours from cruise ships in Invergordon – I know as a matter of fact this is something that people want when they visit plus it has a great story attached that is augmented by a visit to the Dingwall Museum.”

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".

Community council chairman Jack Shepherd, who is also a health and safety expert, said: “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.”

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