Last week, work started on the renovation of the derelict Fort William Secondary School building at the West End entrance to the town. The work will see the building transformed over the next year into a new council headquarters. Transferring council staff from numerous town centre buildings to this new centre, will enable the council to exit expensive building leases, saving the taxpayer £400,000 every year. Whilst I support this project, as it’s saving money and getting rid of an eyesore which has blighted the town for years, I voted against the proposed extension to the side of the listed building. I thought this was an unimaginative, bog standard extension which would detract from the other buildings. We could have developed something more in keeping with the area. I lost that argument at the planning committee, which gave approval in Inverness.
I’ve now discovered that the council is planning to spend around £25,000 on public art for the new offices, as required by the planning permission. I’m no philistine. I enjoy art of all types and think public art does much to enhance our towns and cities. However, when the council is strapped for cash and having to look at what services it can continue to provide, I question spending any money on a sculpture or an engraved paving stone. This is especially so when it would be tucked away in the grounds of a civic hub where many residents and visitors would never see it. I’ve written to the Director of Development and Infrastructure asking for this frivolous spending to be halted.
Letter to Stuart Black, Director for Development and Infrastructure:
Now that work has started on site for the new council offices in Fort William, I understand that attention within the council is turning to the provision of public art. I am writing to you as Chairman of the Project Board to seek clarification on this matter. I note from e-planning that no information in relation to Condition 19 has yet been submitted and seek further information on the council’s intentions. Our ward manager suggests that £25,000 is allocated for the provision of public art on this site. Can you confirm this?
If this is the case, may I ask for the provision of public art to be reviewed, and if necessary an application for condition 19 to be removed from the existing planning permission? Whilst I am normally supportive of art in public places, indeed I am pleased that we have several significant pieces in my own village, I can’t support this particular expenditure at a time when the council budget is so perilously stretched and there is considerable uncertainty about the future provision of council services.
Lochaber residents will find it difficult to reconcile the council spending £25,000 on a piece of art, many of them will never see as it will be tucked away within the grounds of a council building they may never visit, when we have been unable to contribute or provide any significant contribution to important projects, such as an indoors sports facility or pontoons. Many Lochaber residents will see this as a frivolous project when we were forced to increase fares on the Corran Ferry by 2% to close a projected £10,000 deficit on its operation.
I remain supportive of the council’s Public Art Strategy, and this should still be pursued when significant private or commercial developments are completed. However, during a period of financial insecurity and uncertainty, I believe common sense should prevail and taxpayers money saved for other uses in the area.
I look forward to your response.