The Carbuncles, I reckon, are great. They are awards for poor planning and urban mismanagement in Scotland, and contain various categories including “Plook on the Plinth” (for worst town) and “Zit building award” (for worst building), both of which have received nominations relating to Inverness.
The wonderful thing about The Carbuncles is that they generate vigorous debate about the nature of our towns and buildings, and help unfortunate nominees reflect on whether and how they can improve themselves. It’s not about kicking a place when it’s down – the criteria in the nominations are quite clear that it’s about places that have failed to live up to their potential or have been mismanaged, rather than places that are awful beyond anyone’s control.
I’m finding the nominations of Inverness fascinating, and I am not as instantly appalled as I thought I would be, once I got thinking. Yes, there are a number of things wrong with the way Inverness has grown and developed, and yes, it’s worth highlighting these problems, debating them, and holding those responsible to account.
Among the comments you can read on the Carbuncle website include criticisms of the Longman Industrial Estate. Quite valid – it’s the first thing you see when travelling to Inverness from the north, and rather than iconic buildings along the shoreside, attractive walks, and a bustling mix of greenery and commerce around the marina, you’ve got a mixture of brownfield sites, industrial warehouses, and ugly factories. Not a good first impression.
The retail park at Beechwood comes in for a knock, and again, rightly so. That it has soaked money out of the city centre and is badly served by public transport is bad enough, but now Borders has shut, it’s even more soulless. And the park serves as a testament to the stranglehold Tesco has on the city.
The city centre also deserves criticism, with the famously-criticised buildings on Bridge Street presenting a horrendous first impression for those travelling north up the A82. Other approaches into the city, such as Millburn Road or the road through the Carse Industrial Estate, are uninspiring and unwelcoming, with the Dores Road being the city’s only truly beautiful approach. Meanwhile, the fact that much of Inverness is bland, amenities-free suburbia makes it a hard place to access services unless you live centrally or have a car.
It’s disappointing to read in the Courier article that the response from civic leaders is predictable in its indignation. No acceptance that the nominations may have a point; no admission that the city’s growth has been badly managed in recent years; no willingness to put hands up and concede that there have been some poor decisions and a spectacular lack of joined-up thinking between relevant agencies in the city.
Instead of unequivocal disagreement, affronted harrumphing, and cliched restatement of the city’s undoubted qualities, why didn’t we get a response that outlined what work lay ahead to improve the city and how it would be delivered?
As I’ve blogged before (here and here), Inverness is just a few major steps away from being an incredible city. It needs a one-off merry-go-round to ensure the museum, courts, college/university, tourist info and various other things are in the best places. It needs a radical overhaul of public transport. It needs a number of hideous eyesores to be demolished. It needs a single authority to integrate, represent and oversee its future development.
Now, let’s not forget that Inverness is a fantastic city with loads going for it – excellent public services, a great nightlife, good cultural amenities, a gorgeous river, access to some of the best countryside in perhaps Europe, and a wonderful climate. I could write a long, long blog post entirely on why I love this city.
But just because Inverness is wonderful doesn’t exempt it from consideration for The Carbuncles. Indeed, it is precisely because it could so easily and visibly do better, rather than being a hellhole beyond redemption, that makes it a perfect candidate.
To be honest, I wouldn’t be all that upset if Inverness “wins” an award. Indeed, if the city’s authorities respond to the award in a constructive way, and if there is a real, inclusive, meaningful debate about what the city needs to do to improve, then it could be the kick up the backside that defines the city’s future and sets in train some wonderful new improvements.
Talking of carbuncles, I am off to a past winner of the Plook on the Plinth, Cumbernauld, for work tomorrow. Wish me luck…