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Former Highland college site to go back up for sale

By Andrew Dixon

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A prime development site on the outskirts of Inverness city centre is set to go on the market within weeks.

The land, where Inverness College UHI used to be located, was going to be bought by Highland Council before the local authority mysteriously pulled the plug on the deal.

The plot on the Longman Industrial Estate is believed to be worth between £3.5-£4 million.

Business experts believe this is an opportunity for developers to bid for an area with enormous potential.

It is owned by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and has been empty since the college moved to Inverness Campus five years ago. The demolition of the former college building started in January 2019.

A spokeswoman for UHI said: “The Longman site will be advertised for sale now that the land has been cleared, most likely towards the end of the summer. However, it is difficult to predict the level of interest and the impact that the pandemic will have on the market.”

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said it was a key site due to its proximity to the city centre.

“It’s on the main access road to the city centre and it is important that it is appropriately redeveloped,” he said.

“The new Inverness Justice Centre nearby is stunning, so it has to blend in with that.

“It is a key development opportunity for the city.

“It’s really significant that the sale is going ahead, which is a real boost to the city in terms of development opportunities and job creation.”

The council’s decision not to bid for the site was taken by a small team of high-ranking council officers, known as the Gold Group, set up to lead the local authority during the pandemic.

Minutes of their decisions on April 8 appeared in official papers in June, and simply state: “Withdraw the council’s offer for the former Inverness Longman college site”.

But an identical list released on the council’s website had this significant sentence missing.

Councillor John Bruce described the move as “strange”.

He added: “The council’s offer to purchase the Longman site was withdrawn only three weeks into lockdown.

“This was totally unknown until we got the recent papers and it seemed a very strange time to withdraw the purchase because no property sales could have proceeded under the lockdown conditions, and I would like to know why this happened.”

During a full council meeting last week, councillors privately discussed why the local authority lost interest in the site.

A spokesman said: “The council is not currently in a position to take forward this purchase in light of the uncertain economic circumstances and budget considerations due to Covid-19.”

Inverness economist Tony Mackay said it was an important plot because of its location and size.

“I have been sceptical about the council’s plans for a mixed use development there,” he said. “I am not surprised that it has withdrawn its interest because the coronavirus pandemic has caused the local authority serious financial problems and also resulted in a massive downturn in the local economy.

“I am sure that a business will take over the site but given the current circumstances, that may not happen for a year or two.”

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