Hawick’s councillors were split down the middle on the Great Tapestry of Scotland amendment vote at last week’s budget meeting.
The opposition Conservative group, including Hawick’s George Turnbull, with support from Hawick Independents Stuart Marshall and Watson McAteer, tabled a bid to halt the £3.5million funding earmarked in Scottish Borders Council’s capital spending plan for a permanent home for the tapestry at Tweedbank.
Their motion failed and the ruling SNP/Lib-Dem/Independent administration’s tapestry proposal was approved by 21 votes to 10, with Hawick SNP member Alastair Cranston, Independent Davie Paterson and Lib-Dem Ron Smith all throwing their weight behind the proposal.
Speaking to the Hawick News before news broke on Tuesday that the Scottish Government is refusing to release its £2.5million share of the tapestry building programme until a “fully revised business case is received”, the town’s councillors remained at loggerheads over the merits of the tapestry plans.
Councillor Marshall, Hawick and Denholm, said he hadn’t met anyone in favour of the project and added: “Our roads are in a shocking state, the people in my ward will have to wait six years for a flood protection scheme, and our schools are constantly seeking extra funding, so there was absolutely no way I could have backed this crazy proposal.”
Councillor McAteer, Hawick and Denholm, said he was “disappointed” that the three Hawick councillors who form part of the council’s ruling administration voted to saddle the Borders with a 30-year debt at a time of “increasing austerity and jobs at risk”.
Echocing Mr McAteer’s sentiments, Councillor Turbull, Hawick and Hermitage, said he wasn’t against the tapestry being located in the Borders, but that he had opposed the tapestry being housed in a new building at Tweedbank from day one. He added: “The business plan does not stack up and local taxpayers should not be financing this project, especially when they do not even own the tapestry. This will be an albatross around taxpayers’ necks for 30 years at £208,000 per year plus any shortfall if the visitor figures do not materialise.
Councillor Paterson, Hawick and Hermitage – who was initially opposed to the idea of spending taxpayers’ money on the tapestry when the proposal was first mooted in 2014, but has since declared his support for the bid – said it would be an “investment”, which would attract “many visitors” to the Borders.
Councillor Smith, Hawick and Hermitage, said he would have been “delighted” if the tapestry had come to Hawick, but as the location in Tweedbank was favoured over other Borders sites, it would have been “totally and utterly hypocritical to condemn it there when it was apparently okay to promote it elsewhere in the Borders”.
Mr Smith also highlighted the £10million made available through the Blueprint for the Borders which offers government support for projects within the railway corridor.
Councillor Cranston, Hawick and Denholm, told Tuesday night’s Teviot and Liddesdale Area Forum that he hoped the tapestry would be an “incentive” for more tourists to visit other towns in the Borders.