Park bid could hinge on houses being built

SELLING parts of Wilton Lodge Park to developers may be the only way of securing a £2million lottery jackpot to allow ambitious restoration plans to go ahead.

That was the controversial proposal mooted at Teviot and Liddesdale Area Committee this week, where officials revealed that selling ground on the outskirts of the park could be the best way of securing a vital funding package required by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The land being suggested for sale is at the back of the park, which is either leased by SBC or used for grazing and not generally used by the public.

But although conceding the idea was in its early stages and would require lengthy discussion, parks and open spaces boss Jason Hedley stated: “This is a very controversial issue and a debate needs to start now. There’s no identified sources for capital funding and no allocation within SBC to suppport the grant. This is about the sustainability of a crucial asset for the whole of the Borders and Hawick.”

The Friends of Wilton Lodge Park’s hopes to restore and improve the park took a step closer to a £1.95million grant last month by gaining a first-round pass to the final stage - but the culmination of four years’ work will only progress if they secure £1.1million of ‘match’ funding.

Planning officer Andrew Drumnmond-Hunt advised: “The unpalatable part of this is that we are going to have to sacrifice some of the park to allow its development to go ahead.”

He outlined that houses could potentially be developed on the green space, currently used by Hawick Harlequins RFC, if the caravan site was no longer viable, as well as the area next to the allotments. But Mr Drummond-Hunt asserted: “It really is something you need to look at as a town, at what you can sell to go ahead with the project.”

A suggestion by Councillor Stuart Marshall that the area lent itself to a garden centre and nursery, of which he said Hawick would “benefit immensely”, was welcomed by Mr Hedley. But he added: “Wilton Lodge Park is the finest example of a Victorian Park and certainly the jewel in our crown.

“No decisions have been made and we have gone into this with the best of intentions, and nothing will go ahead without everbody, including SBC and the people of Hawick, agreeing that the decision is right for the greater good.”

Friends’ spokesman Keith Johnson stated: “This is a sensitive subject and more information is required. But it should not be allowed to detract from the tremendous opportunity we have to do something beneficial for Hawick and its people.”