Scottish Borders Council’s announcement that its plans to have a home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland built in Tweedbank are hanging by a thread has been welcomed by critics of that choice of site.
An unnamed location in central Galashiels is now being considered as an alternative to the £6m visitor centre previously approved, and critics of the Tweedbank proposals believe that is the only viable way to stop the project unravelling entirely.
Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the council’s Conservative opposition, has consistently opposed the Tweedbank option, and the Selkirkshire councillor told the Southern: “There was never any doubt in my mind from the moment the idea of a tapestry building at Tweedbank was brought to the council over two years ago that it was simply not the right decision.
“I’m glad the Scottish Government appears to have concurred with our view and we are to look at it again.”
A due diligence process is being conducted by Government officials on the business case for the Tweedbank site at the behest of Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop before her department commits £2.5m to the project.
After the council voted in December 2014 to commit £3.5m to the Tweedbank venture, two Hawick and Denholm councillors, Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall, both independents, resigned from the administration in protest.
Mr McAteer said: “I’m totally surprised and bemused to hear about premises becoming available in Galashiels some two years after we were told Tweedbank was the only option.
“People will be cynically looking at the reasons for, and the timing of, this announcement telling us that a site where trees have already been felled – and thousands of pounds spent – can suddenly become eclipsed by a building in Galashiels.
“From day one, the Tweedbank business case simply did not make any commercial sense, and those that supported the tapestry on that basis should consider their position.”
Mr Marshall stated: “I’m extremely angry this has been slipped in to allow some face-saving and to take the pressure off those who have consistently ignored the voice of the Borders public.
“It is simply not good enough to conjure up an alternative without being clear this can be completed at next to zero cost to the public purse.”
Brian McCrow, the Innerleithen community councillor whose 4,400 signature petition demanding that the council reverse its Tweedbank funding decision, was rejected by councillors last October, also welcomed the news.
“I’ve not found anyone who liked the Tweeddank building, its location and the ongoing costs of £208,000 a year for 30 years for the next generation,” he said.
Although councillors have been told in the past that the site of the former post office in Channel Street, Galashiels, has been assessed and rejected as a possible home for the tapestry, there is speculation in the town that the building, together with adjoining retail premises, is the “new opportunity” the council announcement refers to.
However, a council spokesperson told the Southern: “At this time, we cannot publicly confirm the site being considered.”
Mrs Ballantyne added: “I was often told that I should give up and accept that the decision would not be altered.
“I believe that this proves that councillors should stand up for what they believe in, do what is right and not bow to pressure. After all, that is what we were elected to do.
“We will examine the new proposals carefully, and hopefully the debate will be robust, and any decision to move forward with a home for the tapestry will be sustainable.”
Although councillors have been told in the past that the old post office in Channel Street, Galashiels, has been assessed and rejected as a possible home for the tapestry, there is speculation in the town that the building, together with adjoining retail premises, is the “new opportunity” referred to in the council announcement.
However, a council spokesperson said: “At this time, we cannot publicly confirm the site being considered.”