Published: 07/02/2018 13:00 - Updated: 06/02/2018 09:43

Movement promised soon on eyesore Eastgate Hostel

Written byGregor White

 

Eastgate
It is now almost five years since the Eastgate Hostel was destroyed by fire.

ALMOST five years on from the fire that left it a blight on the city centre there have been suggestions that visible movement on restoring the former Eastgate Hostel could at last be about to happen.

The former backpackers hostel went up in flames in April 2013 and for most of the time since has been swathed in scaffolding as the building’s owners and Highland Council debate moves towards its restoration.

Majority site owner Imtaiz Ali, who has consistently refused to talk publicly about his plans for the site, was finally granted planning permission in December last year to turn his part of the building into six one-bedroom holiday flats, but there has been no sign so far of that plan actually being put into action.

The length of time taken means that city children who started school in August will never have known the building any other way than shrouded in scaffolding.

And now with the Easter weekend less than eight weeks away Inverness also faces the prospect of a fifth tourist season with the dilapidated building still one of the main sites visitors can expect to "enjoy" during their time in the Highland capital.

Acknowledging the strength of feeling lack of visible progress on the building arouses in both traders and city residents Councillor Janet Campbell said she is certain action is finally on the way.

As a councillor for Inverness Central she has regularly attended meetings between council officers and building owners and said: "I am confident that in the near future progress will be made and the matter will be resolved."

While she said she could not go into more detail as information shared at the meetings is confidential she added: "I wouldn’t be saying this if I did not feel that things will be moving forward soon."

Her assertions were echoed by chartered surveyor Iain Sibbald who has previously worked with Mr Ali as project manager on the Eastgate Hostel.

While saying he had been given no further instructions so far he added: "I know that the joint owners are conferring on a way forward, and I am sure they will make a public statement soon.

"They put in a huge amount of work to get the planning consents including surveys and so forth, so I am sure something will be happening."

As part of its ongoing Reinvent the City Centre campaign pushing for positive change across the board the Inverness Courier has consistently sought to keep up the pressure on all parties to move towards a resolution on the hostel issue, particularly as the list of major developments that HAVE taken place in the city since the fire continues to grow.

Last year alone Inverness Town House, at the other end of the High Street, was fully refurbished while the first step towards transforming Inverness Castle into a new tourist attraction was achieved with the opening of the Castle Viewpoint in April.

The £55 million West Link also opened in December – complete with a new clubhouse and pitch for Highland Rugby Club.

The city continues to see house building progressing at pace while further back in time the new Inverness Campus development was up and running in less time, as were flood alleviation measures for the River Ness.

Fire also gutted the Inverness branch of clothes retailer M&Co in Academy Street in April 2015 – but it managed to reopen fully restored in October the following year.

Crown and City Centre Community council chairwoman Pat Hayden said: "We are as keen as anybody to have this eyesore removed, but the more time that passes and the more bad weather we have the worst state of repair the façade will be in.

"Last year we met with Highland Historic Buildings Trust who would like to turn the building into flats and they were looking for the funding to do so, but we never heard any more.

"It was estimated in 2014 that it would cost £3.2 million to renovate but we have had some bad winters since then.

"It really is a sad affair to watch the façade crumble."

Inverness MP Drew Hendry said he has now written to both Highland Council and the property owners.

"The council have powers of compulsory purchase if it is clear that they intend to do nothing with the building," he added. "It is a blot in the city centre."

City area manager for Highland Council, David Haas, refused to be drawn on the question of compulsory purchase and acknowledged that many in the community found the long wait for anything to be done "very frustrating". 

Councillor Richard Laird, a fellow ward member of Cllr Campbell, said the patience of the entire Highland Council was "probably running pretty low at this stage".

"For the good of the city centre there needs to be a solution pretty soon," he said "It is an eyesore.

"It has been there for too long and, given the prominent location and the nature of the scaffolding, it has not been good for the city."

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