Councillors in favour of the creation of a £6.7m visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels can expect a backlash at May’s local government elections, according to one of those opposed to it.
Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer last week led an unsuccessful revolt against the project at a full council meeting.
The failure of his amendment, calling for the plans to be scrapped, means Scottish Borders Council will contribute £3.5m in capital exoensiture – repayable at £208,000 a year over 30 years – to the project, and that financial commitment will come back to haunt some councillors in May, he reckons.
The independent told the Hawick News: “I believe those who failed to listen to their electorate and supported this costly and damaging folly can kiss goodbye to their prospects of re-election in May.”
He was talking after last Thursday’s council decision – by 26 votes to seven – to establish a permanent home for the 160-panel artwork on the site of the former Poundstretcher store and the old post office next door in Galashiels town centre.
The council agreed to write off the £340,000 it has already spent pursuing the option of siting the tourist attraction at Tweedbank.
That location was rejected as, unlike Galashiels, it was considered unlikely to yield the £2.5m funding the Scottish Government had pledged to bring the tapestry to the region because its business case was not strong enough.
Bids for the balance of £700,000 from other funding sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, will now be prepared by council officers.
The facility is due to open to the public in April 2020.
Mr McAteer’s call for the venture to be aborted was backed by the other four Hawick councillors present at the meeting – Stuart Marshall, David Paterson, Ron Smith and George Turnbull.
With the exception of Mr Smith, all are expected to seek re-election next year.
Hawick’s sixth representative, Alastair Cranston, a member of the council’s SNP group, which unanimously endorsed the Galashiels project, did not attend as he was believed to be on holiday in New Zealand at the time.
Speaking to his motion demanding no action, Mr McAteer told the meeting: “In the two and a half years since we were first introduced to the proposal to site the tapestry in the Borders, I have rarely seen something gather so much public disquiet and unanimous rejection.
“This has nothing to do with what is recognised as a fantastic piece of art stitched together by enthusiastic volunteers, but everything to do with the voice of the Borders public.
“The electorate who have placed their trust in us want this project – and the huge public expense involved – abandoned. Supporting this today is the same as telling them ‘thanks for electing me, but don’t expect me to respect your views’.
“The people of Hawick who elected me do not want to see £6.7m spent on something which will do little for the rest of the Borders.
“Placing the tapestry in Galashiels, which already has a £7m transport interchange and attracts two-thirds of all the retail spend in the Borders, is ignoring the rest of the region.
“There is absolutely no credible evidence that visitors to the tapestry will travel one further mile to visit anywhere else in the Borders.”
The 469ft-long tapestry, completed in 2013, is made up of 160 embroidered panels, a dozen of them stitched by volunteers in the Borders, two of them partially in Hawick.