THERE is still all to play for in the bid to create a new state-of-the-art sports arena in Inverness, the scheme’s backers insist.
Supporters had been looking to Highland Council to provide £7 million towards the £23 million total cost of the development which has been envisioned for Bught Park and would include a velodrome as well as facilities for athletics, gymnastics, tennis and judo.
It would also operate as a 3000-seat indoor concert and event venue.
As councillors met to approve the capital budget for the year ahead on Wednesday backers attended in the hope that the cash might still come through despite the fact the arena was not mentioned on the proposed spending list.
There have been fears that funds already secured from sportscotland and the European Regional Development Fund could be lost without the council also supporting the plan, but despite that failing to materialise this week Mike Greaves of the Highland Velodrome Trust (HiVelo) insisted the arena vision is far from dead in the water.
Other funding streams are already being investigated he said, including the possibility of some element of community ownership.
Accepting that Highland Council had tough choices to make as this year’s capital budget was slashed almost in half – to £56.7 million – Mr Greaves said for many the arena project remained "too good to fail" and a plan B is already in motion.
"Discussions are well-advanced in the search for an alternative solution which would enable development to proceed at no net cost to the council," he said.
"HiVelo and other sports groups are working with expert advisors to finalise a different business mode for the Arena. This would supplement the external funding available with gap finance sourced along community enterprise lines."
He continued: "I’m confident that our emerging business plan will prove robust and we’d be very grateful for the earliest possible opportunity to discuss this with the council, sportscotland and other potential sponsors."
The project has been backed by several high profile sports stars including Judy Murray and Scottish cycling gold medallist Katie Archibald, who said the creation of a Highland velodrome would "open the door for the Highlands to share in a national passion and its success".
Highland sports commentator Charles Bannerman has also said the type of provision proposed is badly needed in the region.
"Competitors from the Highlands are hugely underachieving in many sports, especially in winter, because of a lack of indoor facilities," he said.
"The benefits of an indoor arena would be massive – not only for serious performers but also for people doing sport at all levels."
He admitted he would find council expenditure on the arena difficult to justify in the current climate but added: "If an alternative way forward has now emerged, I would welcome this with open arms and urge that everything possible is done to secure this by these means."