Borders MP Calum Kerr has added his voice to calls for a vacant site in the centre of Galashiels to become a permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
The SNP member for Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk believes that urban location is preferable to Scottish Borders Council’s long-favoured option close to the rail terminal at Tweedbank.
“It’s clear the presence of such a remarkable attraction in the heart of Galashiels would be transformative for a town centre which is still struggling to recover from long-term economic challenges in the retail sector,” said Mr Kerr.
“Although the site at Tweedbank may appear to be the more straightforward, I don’t think if offers comparable economic benefits.
“On the other hand, a site in the heart of Galashiels could kick off a new phase of town centre regeneration.”
Mr Kerr has expressed those views in a letter to Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop.
Her department has given a commitment to fund a home for the giant artwork to the tune of £2.5m, but so far it has baulked at endorsing the Tweedbank site to which the council has already agreed to commit £3.5m of the expected £6m bill.
In June, the council announced the emergence of Galashiels as a potential alternative site and at the end of this month –Thursday, September 29 – it will decide which option, if either, to pursue.
In his letter to Ms Hyslop, Mr Kerr asks her to consider allocating more funds if necessary in order to secure the tapestry for Galashiels.
“It seems clear which option has the more compelling economic and social benefits, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to secure this outcome,” he said.
“If additional funding is required, all parties involved need to work to secure it.”
Energise Galashiels, a voluntary trust set up to promote urban regeneration, has painted a pessimistic picture of the town’s retail future if the central site – understood to involve the former post office property at the top of Channel Street – is not selected.
“While there is optimism that Galashiels may be attractive to some national retailers based on current footfall activity, the trends in retailing suggest that without a major intervention or an attraction to encourage more visitors, there is little chance of our old town centre being productively occupied,” said a spokesman for the trust.
“In the absence of a major intervention, it is doubtful that retail trading will ever resolve the current level of vacancies.
“Energise Galashiels believes that securing the Great Tapestry of Scotland in a town centre location will act as a catalyst for other projects and initiatives which offer the opportunity of transforming Galashiels and regenerating an area that is key to the overall prosperity of the town.
“A Galashiels location would be a major boost not only for the town but also, we believe, offer greater benefits to the Scottish Borders.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, a fellow SNP politician, has already given her backing to proposals to find a home for the tapestry in central Galashiels.