A LOCAL electrician should be hired and paid for by Common Good funds if necessary, if it means Jedburgh Abbey’s currently darkened floodlights can be switched back on in time for the town’s festive season celebrations.
So says Councillor Jim Brown (SNP, Jedburgh and District) who remains furious that the lamps iluminating the historic, near-900-year-old abbey were recently turned off after persistent faults, but without either him or his two fellow local Scottish Borders councillors being consulted.
Safety trip switches controlling the supply of power to the lights have, on several recent occasions, been activated because of water seeping into the joints, lamps and wiring.
But last week in TheSouthern, Mr Brown slammed the decision to turn off the lights at the Historic Scotland-owned property and the circumstances leading up to it, as an “absolute disgrace”.
And with just over three weeks until Christmas, the ongoing row over the lights saw a distinct lack of festive cheer at last Thursday’s meeting of the full Scottish Borders Council.
Mr Brown wanted to know when the decision to switch off the lights had been taken and whether they would be back on in time for Christmas.
Councillor Jim Fullarton, (Con, East Berwickshire) executive member for roads and infrastructure, replied that the day-to-day running of the extensive road bridges and lighting infrastructure is undertaken by the department, with no member involvement.
“I have been made aware of the issue on the current condition of the floodlighting at Jedburgh Abbey, and understand that, following routine inspection by qualified electrical staff, a decision was taken in the interest of public safety to immediately switch off the floodlights,” he told Mr Brown.
“The existing apparatus, lighting units and cabling were determined to be unsafe, the system itself was continually tripping the system board, making it impossible to determine the full extent of the faults. Officers are preparing a position statement for this site and the 30 other sites the council illuminates for aesthetic rather than safety reasons.
“For the Jedburgh Abbey issue, the department is currently engaged with Historic Scotland to determine who is responsible for this asset. The council maintains and pays for the electricity, but it may not necessarily be responsible for its replacement and consequently the required capital investment to a non-council owned facility.”
A meeting has since been scheduled for December 5 between SBC and Historic Scotland, but the explanations did nothing to appease Mr Brown, who replied that it was unacceptable for a “fairly junior” council officer to make the decision to switch the lights off without local elected members being informed.
“Is this the right way to run a department?” he asked. “The abbey attracts many visitors who will be expecting to see these lights on for Hogmanay,” he added.
Mr Fullarton said the lights were the responsibility of Historic Scotland and the decision over whether to switch them off had been left to staff properly qualified to do so.
But a week later and with the festive season fast approaching, Mr Brown is still seething. “My view at the end of the day is that, for the executive member for technical services (roads and infrastructure), Jim Fullarton, to stand up in the chamber and say it is nothing to do with him is totally unacceptable,” he told TheSouthern this week.
“What are the two members responsible for technical services being paid £7,000 a year for?”
Mr Brown says the simplest solution would be for a local electrician to sort out the problem and let the abbey lights get turned back on in time for the Christmas and New Year celebrations, and if the local authority had no spare cash to pay for this work, then for the town’s Common Good fund to stump up the necessary funds.
“We could then have a proper review of the situation next year,” he told us. “Because there will be people driving up to Scotland along the A68, coming to spend Hogmanay here and if the abbey is in darkness, they’re not going to stop – they’re just going to drive on and that will affect local businesses, including hotels and shops.”
And Jedburgh Traders Association chairperson, Diana Cairns, agrees the abbey lights have an important part to play in attracting people into the town at Christmas and New Year.
“I think all the traders would agree with that view,” she told us. “The abbey is a vital visitor attraction for Jedburgh and seeing it illuminated, especially during the festive season, makes it an even more important asset to the town.
“It would be difficult to quantify how much it helps local businesses, but it’s one of the things Jedburgh is famous for and why people come to the town.
“It’s all very well Historic Scotland having all these big attractions like museums in the cities providing free admission, but they should also budget to ensure the sites they own in the smaller towns of Scotland are also properly maintained.”