THE public must be assured that all glass canopies in shopping centres across Inverness have been inspected and are safe.
Inverness South councillor Duncan Macpherson issued the demand in the wake of a panel failing at Inshes Retail Park earlier this week – within months of three similar incidents at the nearby Inverness Retail Park.
Several affected businesses are likely to lose thousands of pounds of potential income as part of the site was cordoned off in the immediate aftermath and there is no time frame on when the restrictions will be lifted.
Three stores remained closed yesterday – Matalan, Hobbycraft and Deichmann.
Inverness economist Tony Mackay estimated the daily loss to a store such as Matalan by the enforced closure could be as much as £80,000 a day.
In November, Gary Mitchell (57), of Ardersier, suffered cuts to his face and had to have stitches in his head after being struck by falling glass outside the New Look store at Inverness Retail Park. Nobody appears to have been injured in the incident at Inshes.
But Councillor Macpherson insists action must be taken.
"All these panels must be inspected – wherever they are," he said. "This falling panel could have had catastrophic consequences.
"It beggars belief that this could happen again so soon after the almost identical incidents at Inverness Centre (Inverness Retail Park), especially when every retail park management team in Scotland must have been watching with interest what had occurred, at a cost of thousands in lost revenue, never mind the consequences of injury claims.
"I would be very surprised if the same Highland Council environmental protection officers who placed an unsafe building order on Inverness Centre didn’t visit Inshes Retail Park senior management with similar concerns for their overhead glass panels above shop entrances and public walkways.
"We need to be reassured that these glass panels are safe and secure. I will be seeking reassurance from Highland Council that environmental health officers and building control managers are satisfied that all reasonable health and safety precautions have been adhered to, and to ask if it has been established what has been the cause of this retail park glass failure, along with the findings from the incidents at Inverness Centre last year."
Fellow ward member, councillor Ken Gowans, said public safety was "paramount" and called for all stores at the site to be closed off until the cause of the incident was determined and the area made safe.
Members of the public also flooded the Inverness Courier’s Facebook page, incredulous that such an incident could happen again in a major city retail park.
Morag Macdonald asked: "Who in their right mind puts glass that could fall on people above a walkway? Total lack of any sense."
And Ashleigh MacDonald said: "Someone could have been injured or even worse – these panels need to be done away with."
Chris Dowling, a director of the Cairngorm Group and a leading Inverness expert in the use of glass in construction, speculated that lack of maintenance could be an issue in the latest canopy failure.
He said that while toughened glass as used at Inshes could shatter spontaneously, this would be extremely rare. He said laminated glass – such as is used in car windscreens – would be a solution.
"When toughened glass breaks, it is typically due to thermal stress, edge quality, impact, wind or mechanical load," he said. "Metal fixings and rubber seals can all rust or perish, causing the edge of the glass to come into contact with the metal structure. While toughened glass is very difficult to break, the edge is the weakest point. In this scenario, it’s not the glass that’s the problem – it’s lack of maintenance."
He added: "We carry out a yearly inspection for the Eastgate Centre, going right up onto the glass roof. I am surprised it is not an insurance requirement to carry out such inspections. You can’t just throw something up and forget about it."
Highland Council has issued a dangerous buildings notice on the site and building standards surveyor Alasdair Murray said the stores at Inshes would remain shut until the area is safe.
A spokesman for Aberdeen Standard Investment, owner of the retail park, said: "We have a team who are working with police, retailers and others to investigate the cause, ensure public safety and to reopen stores as soon as possible."
Multiple shops at Inverness Retail Park were closed for several days as overhead canopies were removed following two separate falling glass panels in November and one in June.