Redeveloped castle must be a world class attraction
Later this month we will arrive at a significant date in the history of Inverness Castle. For the past 180 years the city’s most prominent structure has been home to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service which has confined its tourism potential as well as some of the people who have passed through the doors.
By 30 March the sheriff and Justice of the peace courts will have moved out to the new Inverness Justice Centre, giving the castle its liberation to explore becoming a major attraction with galleries, restaurants, bars and cafés.
Opportunities like this surface only rarely and it cannot be overstated now important it is for Inverness and the region. We have waited a long time to get to this stage and expectations are understandably high.
The castle overlooks another of our great assets, the River Ness; it looks down the river and the Great Glen and it is the official start and finish of the North Coast 500 route.
With the Town House and cathedral, it is a link to our history and, next to the Loch Ness Monster, could be the biggest and most valuable visitor attraction we have in future. If we get it right.
We have to ensure this new lease of life means the castle becomes a world class attraction. To do that its guardians the Highland Council has to engage with the business community and existing world class tourism ventures in Inverness and the Highlands to learn from their experiences of the visitor market.
The final designs for the attraction are expected to be agreed later this year, while the cost has yet to be determined. However, it will be covered as part of the £315 million Inverness and Highland City-Region deal, an extremely timely windfall but one we must use wisely.
All this coming together is very exciting. And I am extremely encouraged by the words of council leader Margaret Davidson who said the new look castle should be an exemplar for the rest of the country.
It needs to be that and more, an international attraction that serves both the city and the region which adds to our tourism assets and becomes an economic driver for many years to come.