New bid for £3 million climbing centre in Highlands could include Army-style blast wall
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The team behind a £3 million project to develop a world-class climbing centre in Inverness is prepared to build a military-style blast wall in a bid to gain planning permission.
It hopes to persuade Highland councillors to rethink their decision to turn down the proposed Ledge Climbing Gym.
It was refused in February because its planned location in Lotland Street next to a large fuel storage and distribution site was deemed to be an unacceptable risk.
But the charity behind the venture says it has put together a strong case demonstrating the risk is negligible and also suggested a mitigation measure – if required – of installing a blast wall of a type used in military compounds including in Afghanistan.
If implemented, it would be the first civilian use of the product in Europe.
The charity has resubmitted a planning application for the proposed venture which will include climbing walls, a café, a high-performance gym and fitness studio, plus a retail outlet.
The Ledge chief executive Duncan McCallum said an "enormous amount" of work has been carried out after the previous application was turned down by councillors acting on a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The Ledge team has calculated that without physical mitigation, the risk of an individual getting caught up in an incident in Lotland Street is less than one in 58.4 million visits, based on an average 90-minute visit.
"The key point is there is an option to build a blast wall," he said.
"Because we think the operational risk is so low, it will be up to the discretion of the planners of any planning stipulations put on us.
"It is definitely an option, it is not a given."
He said the team had spent weeks carrying out research.
The blast wall suggested as potential added mitigation had been developed for MOD and Home Office use in the UK and abroad.
"This particular type of material was made to be able to get helicopters into Helmand Province to protect British soldiers," he said.
Mr McCallum said the HSE – which had updated safety regulations in the aftermath of the 2005 explosion at the Buncefield petrol depot in Hemel Hempstead – had a statutory duty to recommend refusal of a project even though the risk was low.
So, even if the proposed building was a nuclear bomb-proof building, offering 100 per cent protection, it would still recommend refusal.
But the planners could take into account potential suitable mitigation measures.
“I think one of the things which was quite clear at the last presentation to the committee was that there was a call from members to understand more about the site risk,” Mr McCallum added.
It is estimated the climbing centre will generate £1 million a year for the local economy and create 46 jobs.
It will be accredited by Mountaineering Scotland as a level three hub and a regional centre of excellence and is expected to support delivery of further education courses in sustainable mountain development.
It will be used by the general public and also in charity work to improve people’s lives through sporting activity.
Initially, the plan was to build the facility at Inverness Marina, but due to delays caused by the pandemic and financial uncertainty, alternative plans were put forward instead to convert a warehouse in Lotland Street in the city’s Longman Industrial Estate.
The project also received a £200,000 grant in November from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to contribute towards the costs of fitting out the climbing wall.