Community council plea for decision to be made on Kelso’s new public artwork

THERE is concern the debate over what kind of public artwork should be chosen for the centre of Kelso and where it should go, is just going round in circles and no nearer a firm decision.

The issue of the artwork – being paid for by £50,000 from supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s – has already generated months of heated debate and has become entwined with overall plans to improve the centre of the town.

And the artwork question looks set to be high up the agenda again tonight, when the local stakeholders group, which comprises dozens of local organisations, holds its latest meeting. Kelso Community Council, which held its June meeting last week, is just one member of the stakeholders group.

The council held an extraordinary meeting at the end of May to discuss issues that had been raised by other stakeholders.

Community councillors took the view that the 100 responses generated by the public consultation survey, carried out by local artist Paul Grime, was not enough to conclude that townspeople agreed with a recent suggestion that the artwork should take the form of a two-dimensional horse sculpture.

And also, as other Borders towns such as Galashiels and Hawick, already have horses as part of their major public artwork, it was felt Kelso should have something different.

There was also concern if a horse sculpture was located in the Innes Place corner of the square, as proposed, it would be subject to vandalism and youngsters climbing on it.

Community councillors agreed their preferred option would be a piece of relief artwork, set into the cobbles in the area in front of the town house.

This would take the form of a large-scale copy in metal of the wooden carving in the Town House, which depicts the town’s coats of arms plus additional carvings of important local buildings.

On the Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) issue, a proposal by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) officers that the area adjacent to Greggs bakers shop and Hume’s outfitters in Innes Place should be transformed into a multipurpose area by SBC officers, was rejected.

There was a consensus of opinion among community councillors that this area was not suitable as a public sitting area because the wind funnels through the passageway known as the ‘Dardanelles’, making it a cold and windy place to sit.

The community council wants to see an area of permanent seating in the area presently bordered by flower tubs in front of the Town House, as it is already well used for this purpose by locals and visitors alike. As far as Innes Place was concerned, the community council believes it would be preferable to widen the pavement to accommodate two benches and, possibly, a floral container.

On the issue of the taxi rank, community councillors would rather that half of the area presently proposed as a multi-use area, in Innes Place, be retained as a parking area and include a taxi rank. This area could then be closed by a traffic order should there be any planned activity in this corner of the square.

Addressing last week’s community council meeting, it was Scottish Borders councillor, Tom Weatherston (Con), who said the issue of the artwork was going nowhere fast. He said: “This is going round and round in circles. Stakeholders have to identify a date and come up with a view by then. Certain elements have still not been decided but they have been at this for months and months. It has to progress now.

“We can’t keep going on for month after month. SBC officers have to have some kind of steer on where this is going.”

Colin Gilmour, the new THI project officer, said all the options were still open, but that a decision needed to be made sooner rather than later on the artwork.

“But it doesn’t affect the streetscape work moving forward,” he pointed out.

Chamber of Trade chairman, Bruce Roberts, felt it would be very difficult to get everyone to achieve a consensus.

“I think with such a large group that will be very difficult. It may become a stalemate situation where it has to go to a vote,” he said.

On the issue of the streetscape project, Mr Gilmour revealed that three of the buildings on the priority list to be tackled had now dropped out of the project.

The properties are Roxburgh House, Trinity North Church and Nos 30-32 The Square.

“These three were omitted because they’re just not moving forward,” explained Mr Gilmour. “We can’t force anyone to move forward in taking a grant.”