£9.6m estate deal called into question by Hawick councillors

The Lowood Estate at Tweedbank.
The Lowood Estate at Tweedbank.

Scottish Borders Council’s £9.6m deal to buy the Lowood Estate at Tweedbank has come in for criticism from councillors in Hawick.

Townsfolk there believe the decision to splash the cash in the Eildon area is yet another example of their home town being overlooked by the local authority.

The council revealed last month that it had bought the 109-acre country estate from the Hamilton family with a view to building hundreds of houses and an industrial estate there.

Council officers said that the planned development of the site, part of a wider Tweedbank masterplan, would create 180 permanent jobs and a similar number during the construction phase.

Announcing those plans, Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, said that due to ever-increasing pressure on its budgets, the authority could no longer sit back and try to carry out services as it had done in the past.

“We need to take decisive and strategic action, and this is an incredibly bold, and good, large-scale development,” he said.

However, members of Hawick Community Council this week said they were astonished by the move after repeatedly being told that the council, forced to find £11m of savings in its last budget, was skint.

Speaking at its meeting on Monday, French White said: “We cannot get money for anything. We are always told there is no money.”

Acting chairman Cameron Knox asdded: “There’s not even money for public toilets – they are asking community councils to take them on.

“Where then have they got £9.6m from for Lowood?”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage told members that the council had borrowed the funds. “It’s a loan,” she said.

Mr Knox added: “Rate-payers will have to pay that back, just like the tapestry.”

Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull, one of those in favour of the purchase, said that the financial package is not the same as the funding of the Great Tapestry of Scotland building in Galashiels as the council will rake in capital as and when it sells Lowood sites on for housing and commercial development.

But Mrs Ramage said: “When the council is having to cut back on essential services, it is wrong to use public money to purchase private land for speculative housing development.

“The council is financing the cost of borrowing £10m by cutting other services.”

She said that developments already taking place at Tweedbank had a real prospect of bring jobs to the region and added: “The Tory-led administration has also agreed to pay for the continuing upkeep of the estate and one of the conditions is to maintain the land to current standards.

“This is unacceptable when we cannot cut the grass in our cemeteries but will finance the cutting on a new estate we have purchased.

“The public across the Borders will see this as another central Borders vanity project.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall explained that a confidentiality agreement had prevented public discussion before the announcement was made.

“We were not allowed to talk about Lowood at all until the time that the ink was dry on the cheque,” he said.

“But as far as Hawick is concerned, this is another example of the council getting its priorities totally wrong.”