Hawick councillors have united in condemning the ongoing hold-ups that have hit the opening of the new cafe in the town’s Wilton Lodge Park.
Frustrations had previously been expressed at delays in appointing a company to run the venue, at the heart of the £3.4m National Lottery-backed regeneration of the park, as reported in the Hawick News.
Then, last month, Scottish Borders Council announced that Bradford-based Caterleisure had won the contract to operate it.
But when councillors met company representatives last week, they were informed that it would be about 16 weeks before the venue is operational, ruling out an opening date this summer.
It’s news that Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage considers “very disappointing”.
The councillor also feels the proposed design of the cafe leaves a lot to be desired.
She said: “The company are hoping to be up and running for the start of the October school holidays.
“My first impression of the public area in the new cafe was very positive, but when I saw the kitchen area, to say I was disappointed is an understatement.
“It is too small to work in, which means that much of the catering has to be set up in the main cafe area, which cuts down on public seating.
“The under-floor heating in the main area will have to be adapted as they cannot have food preparation and fridges with this form of heating.
“This has also meant that Caterleisure are planning to put a storage area to the side of the new build as there simply isn’t the storage within the building.
“These are obvious issues that should have been considered in the original plans.
“Caterleisure are keen to promote and use local produce and will be advertising for a manager and both seasonal and permanent employees, which will be good for the town, but I do believe that the public deserve answers to their questions about the delays in the construction and the finish of this building, both interior and exterior.”
Fellow Hawick and Denholm representative Stuart Marshall said: “From the word go, the cafe project has been a complete shambles.
“First, the demolition of the old building was delayed for six months for a so-called bat survey to be completed, then there were complaints regarding the length of time it was taking to construct the new building, then there were issues with the new bridge that adjoins the cafe.
“Concerns were also raised about the size of the kitchen area, as well as other design issues, and now, to rub salt into the wounds, we learn that visitors may well have to wait many more months before they can even purchase a cup of coffee from the newly appointed franchisee.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer also believes the “space challenges are likely to restrict the level of service they will be able to provide the public”, adding: “This, once again, appears to be a design fault, and the public have a right to know why this has happened.
“I will be seeking an explanation by those responsible at a future Teviot and Liddesdale locality forum.”
Fellow Hawick and Hermitage ward member Davie Paterson said: “I have told officers that, as far as I am concerned, it has been a complete shambles from start to finish.
“As one of my constituents said the other day, they could have built the Pyramids and had an occupant in it in the time it has taken to get to this stage.
“I am delighted that we have a national firm going in, but I’d like to know why some of the other tenders were not successful.”
A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “Lease negotiations are progressing well, and Caterleisure is looking forward to opening the Wilton Lodge Park cafe as soon as possible.
“We will inform the Hawick public of the opening date as soon as it is known and thank them for their continued patience.
“The new bridge is now open and is due to have a ceremony next month to officially name it.
“The Zandra Elliot Bandstand was opened in April 2015 and is well used, hosting weekly musical performances as part of the summer bandstand music programme.”
Soapbox – page 15