Anger as light shed on SBC ‘vandalism’

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THE removal last week of Christmas lighting fittings from Innerleithen by Scottish Borders Council workmen has been described as “a massive cock-up” by a local councillor.

Graham Garvie (Tweeddale East) said he was “extremely disappointed” the equipment was taken from lamp posts in the town’s High Street without any prior consultation with the local community.

The action was ordered by SBC’s new director of environment and infrastructure, Rob Dickson, who this week issued an apology over the lack of prior communication.

But Mr Dickson has defended the decision to remove the fittings, which were returned to the town on Friday, claiming they had posed a risk to the public.

In the wake of criticism from Ross McGinn, vice-chairman of Innerleithen Civic Association, which is responsible for the festive illuminations, Mr Dickson issued the following statement yesterday: “The festive lighting connections in Innerleithen were highlighted during a review as a high-level risk to the public. It was therefore a priority for us to make the connections in the town safe.

“We carried out work to ensure the lights and fittings did not continue to cause a risk of electrocution to either the public or council employees working on the street lighting network. The cabling and connections were returned to the association.

“We would, however, like to apologise to the residents of Innerleithen and the civic association for not adequately communicating with them before this process took place. We understand why this would have caused concerns. This was an oversight on our behalf when looking at the immediate priority of the safety of the public.

“As part of our proposals to deliver a managed transfer of connections to a properly- maintained system across all Borders towns, we have now written to all affected community groups to inform them of the proposed arrangements before carrying out any other work to make connections safe.

“We are planning a series of meetings with community groups to discuss how we can support their arrangements into the future.”

In fact, a report of the new arrangements alluded to by Mr Dickson has yet to be sanctioned by elected members of SBC and is not due to be considered until next Tuesday’s meeting of the executive.

Councillors will be asked to acknowledge the potential liability carried by SBC with the provision of connections for festive lighting in Kelso, Melrose, Eyemouth, Peebles, Hawick, Jedburgh, Selkirk, Galashiels and Innerleithen.

They will also be requested to spend £400,000 over the next three years upgrading control and connection points and asked to agree that the council should charge communities for energy used by the seasonal displays.

Ironically, the request for Mr Dickson to prepare a communication plan for advising the affected communities about the revised arrangements will also be considered next week.

“Jumping the gun doesn’t quite cover it,” said Mr McGinn, who poured scorn on both the explanation and apology proferred by Mr Dickson.

“To suggest no-one in the town, including our councillors, were not consulted because the risk to public safety was so great is disingenuous. A man in his position should also be aware that we pay around £700 to ScottishPower and we have not, as has been suggested, been stealing electricity.

“Our lights are treasured by our community, paid for in their entirety by our community with no recourse to public funds, and are meticulously maintained by qualified electricians in the town.

“To carry out this act of vandalism before any decision had been made by councillors to take over control of all festive lights, which flies in the face of communities, simply beggars belief.

Councillor Garvie told us: “This has been a massive cock-up which should never have happened without prior consultation. Courtesy alone demands that this should have taken place.”