Community council’s ‘grand’ gesture sparks window row

SELKIRK’s community council has agreed to fork out up to £1,000 to cover the cost of a shop window smashed in a vandal attack earlier this month, writes Andrew Keddie.

It emerged at last week’s meeting that the premises at 1 Tower Street, which was acquired by the charitable Selkirk Regeneration Company (SRC) last year, was not insured for such damage.

And company director Dr Lindsay Neil, who is also vice-chair of the community council, asked for a loan to cover the cost of repair.

The urgency of his request came with the revelation that the shop is due to be let to a commercial operator from May 1.

The community council agreed to offer an interest-free loan, repayable within a year, on condition the SRC was able to insure against further damage. Dr Neil explained this may not be possible immediately until the lease was signed with the shop tenant.

But the day after the meeting Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre, who represents Selkirkshire on Scottish Borders Council, sent an email to all members of the community council of which she is an ex-officio, non-voting member.

“Although I was prepared to support a short-term loan ... I now qualify that consent by saying before any money is paid over, SRC must prove it has adequate insurance in place,” said Councillor Riddell-Carre.

“Without insurance, the SRC would be unable to repair any further damage in the event of another claim and the likelihood of the community council being repaid would become remote. We cannot risk being put in this position.”

And she added: “This demonstrates the importance of looking after property responsibly and adequate insurance is a must.”

In his response, also circulated to all members, Dr Neil thanked Mrs Riddell-Carre for her “refreshing level of interest in safeguarding the interests of Selkirk people”.

“The insurance we had for 1 Tower Street was an all-risks policy which covered window damage, but was conditional on the property being leased and occupied within three months,” wrote Dr Neil.

“As initially no-one wanted to lease it, I was fortunate to get the all risks extended until December 30, 2010, in expectation of a tenant. Thereafter, the level of cover was reduced to basic earthquake, fire, aircraft impact and explosion.

“The window damage of April 6 therefore did not qualify for all risks as the person planning to lease the shop, although having a key, had not yet signed a lease due to being abroad and won’t fully occupy the shop until May 1 if all goes to plan.As soon as the shop is formally leased, the policy will revert to all risks, but windows are not insured under the present reduced cover.

“You may rest assured I left no stone unturned in my search for insurance cover but, in the event, no insurance firm or broker would underwrite a property, unoccupied for 19 years, except for the firm we signed up with. We were lucky to get any insurance at all.

“We do have the problem, already recognised and discussed amongst SRC directors, of covering the period between the window being repaired and the tenant actually occupying the shop. We will work something out with the insurance brokers.”

Mrs Riddell-Carre then responded thus to the retired GP: “I am relieved you are now attempting to obtain adequate insurance until the arrival of the tenant and cannot understand why you could not obtain it before.

“Equally, it is a relief that you finally have a tenant in view and note that with your characteristic attention to detail you have given them a key prior to the signing of a lease.

“My sole concern is for the security of the loan the community council has offered ... £1,000 is a lot of money from community council funds and, as an ex-officio member of that body, I wish to be sure the sum will be repaid.”

The email exchange ended bitterly with Dr Neil telling Mrs Riddell-Carre: “Sadly, you again fail to understand and I really cannot find the energy to explain the insurance restrictions in simpler terms.

“I note your incorrect assumption that I had distributed a key to the prospective tenant and I take exception to such an unsubstantiated allegation, carrying with it an implied criticism of an inappropriate action on my part. I demand an apology.

“The voting members of the community council approved making a loan available. The matter has been decided and does not merit further discussion.

Mrs Riddell-Carre declined to comment further.