A world-class climbing centre is expected to open in Inverness later this year after council officers gave the project the go-head.
The Ledge Climbing Gym will include a full-sized Olympic-standard bouldering wall, climbing walls, yoga and gym space, a cafe and retail space.
It will be developed in an existing unit in the Telford Retail Park.
It is third time lucky for the venture after previous plans for a £3 million centre with the creation of 46 jobs were thwarted when two proposed locations fell through for different reasons.
The Ledge chief executive Duncan McCallum is delighted it has now been given the green light and expects the climbing gym to open later this year.
“It is very exciting,” said Mr McCallum who co-presents BBC Scotland’s Adventure Show.
“I think everyone who is involved in projects like this has written off the last couple of years.
“It has been a long process but the building is in the right spot for us. It is a good size.
“This is excellent news.”
Seven year journey for the Ledge Climbing Gym
First mooted in 2015, the original plan was to build the gym at Inverness Marina but that was shelved while another bid to site it in a converted warehouse in Lotland Street – next to a fuel storage and distribution site – was rejected by Highland councillors due to health and safety grounds.
Undeterred, the backers pressed on and after three months of negotiations secured unit two – currently occupied by Bensons for Beds – in the retail park.
The application to change its use from retail into a climbing gym, shop and cafe has now been approved by planning officers using delegated powers.
Mr McCallum said: “We are extremely pleased.
“We knew all along Highland Council was very supportive of the project.
“They needed to feel we had found the right building, of the right size and in the right place.”
Mr McCallum said the next stage will be carrying out detailed design work.
Preparations are under way ahead of the tendering process and the expectation is to apply for building warrants in early March.
“If that all goes according to plan, we would like to have a soft opening in October or November time,” Mr McCallum said.
Talks are also taking place with funders and partners which include Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Sport Scotland.
Mr McCallum said given it was an existing building, it was a different project.
“Because we are converting an existing shell it is a much more deliverable project in terms of the budget,” he said.
Indoor climbing centre will be further visitor attraction for the Highlands
In their appraisal, planning officers acknowledged the proposal to retro-fit an underused building in a retail park for leisure use could appear incompatible with the requirements of the Highland-wide local development but added: “Having said that, it is accepted that on several occasions, planning permission has been granted for alternative uses such as non-retail and leisure uses, including gyms, within other retail parks.”
Environmental health officers had raised some queries regarding potential noise and odour impact on neighbouring residential and commercial properties but after the applicant provided further information they had removed any objection subject to conditions being attached to planning permission.
The planning report stated: “It is recognised that the delivery of this climbing centre would bring a very welcome all year round and all-weather indoor climbing facility to Inverness, making the sport more easily accessible to the urban population base within both the city and wider Inner Moray Firth.
“In addition, it would also provide a further attraction for visitors to the Highlands.”