A long-awaited decision on the site for a permanent home in the Borders for the Great Tapestry of Scotland is to be made this week, and it might be debated in public after all.
Two options for sites for the controversial tourist attraction are on the table – at Tweedbank and in Galashiels town centre – and councillors attending a full meeting of Scottish Borders Council tomorrow, September 29, will be asked to decide which one to proceed with or whether to ditch the project altogether.
The Tweedbank site had already been chosen, but the Scottish Government refused to sign off funding for it without further scrutiny, forcing a rethink earlier this year, and it was at that point that an alternative contender in central Galashiels came into contention.
Commercial sensitivity was originally cited as the reason for this week’s meeting, at the council’s headquarters in Newtown at 10am, being held behind closed doors, with no members of the public or press present, but moves are now afoot to overrule that decision.
On behalf of the council’s administration, council leader David Parker will call for the debate to be heard in public.
The Leaderdale and Melrose member, backed by Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, will move that the covering report and the two business cases, for the Tweedbank site and its Galashiels rival, are presented publicly.
Mr Parker said: “A decision as to whether this matter will be held in private or public can only be made on Thursday by council as the papers for the meeting have already been published. For that reason, I will raise the matter on the day and, if agreed, this will mean that all of the information councillors will consider as part of their decision-making at Thursday’s meeting will be made public.
“Although it was recommended to members that the report be taken in private, due to the commercially-sensitive information contained in it, the administration believes it is crucial that all the information is released to enable the Borders public to make their own assessment of the information councillors will debate.”
Explaining the decision to halt work on the Tweedbank site after clearing it to make way for the proposed £6m visitor centre, Mr Parker said: “We are proposing that we proceed to look in further detail at the Galashiels option as this may attract further additional funding that the Tweedbank project could not access, and it would also act as a significant town centre regeneration project.
“Siting the visitor centre in Galashiels town centre would have the potential to unlock substantial benefits for the town, including transforming it into a true visitor destination, which could encourage further positive developments in the town over a number of years.
“The report before members demonstrates that both sites are viable and that the Tweedbank site has a very strong business case.
“Councillors are aware there is very strong support for the Galashiels project from Energise Gala, town centre traders and a whole variety of other business and community interests, and I am very confident that there will be a happy ending for the tapestry project in the Borders.”
If councillors agree to proceed in line with the as-yet-undisclosed course of action being recommended, a further report will be presented to them in November giving more details of the project, including confirming potential sources of funding.
Creating a home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland is a joint project with the Scottish Government, and ministers are expected to commit £2.5m to it, with the council paying the other £3.5m likely to be required.
The council has refused to reveal the Galashiels site under consideration, but it is rumoured to include the old post office in Channel Street.
The 469ft-long tapestry, completed in 2013, is made up of 160 embroidered panels, a dozen of them stitched by volunteers in the Borders.
Both Tweedbank and Galashiels were among the locations at which panels for the tapestry, designed by Andrew Crummy, were stitched, along with Stow, Lauder, Hawick, St Boswells, Jedburgh, Melrose, Kelso, Coldstream, Tweedmouth, Ednam, Gordon, Duns, Smailholm, Gordon, Peebles, Selkirk and West Linton.