The councillor with responsibility for Borders economic development is “completely relaxed” about the scrutiny given to SBC’s tapestry plan.
Councillor Stuart Bell was commenting on his recent meeting with Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop MSP, who wants the business plan for the rail terminal site, to which Scottish Borders Council has already committed £3.5m, exerted to “due diligence”.
Until that verification process is completed to her satisfaction, the balance of £2.5m required from the Scottish Government’s Borders Railway Blueprint Programme will not be released and, if that happens, the entire project could be aborted.
Scottish Government civil servants are examining his council’s choice of Tweedbank as the site for a £6m visitor centre to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Mr Bell was part of an SBC delegation, including leader David Parker and chief executive Tracey Logan, which met Ms Hyslop in Holyrood. Also present was current tapestry trustee Alistair Moffat and Barbara Alison, a senior Scottish Government civil servant and a member of leadership group on the Blueprint funding programme.
“The financing, design and governance of the Great Tapestry home in the Borders were discussed in detail and, yes, we discussed the location at Tweedbank,” said Mr Bell.
“As David Parker and I have repeatedly said, we and the current trustees [of the tapestry] wanted a home with a direct rail connection to Edinburgh as that enhances both attractions [the railway and the tapestry].
“We have examined alternative sites and other locations and so far have not found one that meets the physical requirements of the tapestry at an affordable cost.
“Alternatives, specifically in Galashiels, were significantly more expensive to develop.
“We are completely relaxed about that sort of examination being part of the process of due diligence.”
Mr Bell also confirmed that Ms Hyslop had made a “specific offer” for his council’s tapestry project team to engage with staff involved in two major Scottish attractions – the Kelpies at Falkirk, where a £1.8m visitor centre opened last year, and the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre at Stirling – a £9m project opened in 2014 and funded jointly by the Scottish Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“Ms Hyslop stressed that her department had considerable experience of the development and management of such tourist attractions,” said Mr Bell.
“I should stress that Ms Hyslop will not give us an easy ride and I was impressed at our meeting to see her pull out of her file a drawing of the Tweedbank building. She wanted, there and then, to discuss the detailed numbers of visitors and the use of individual spaces within the building.
“She had clearly read all the documents – documents which I fear some opponents of this project have not even opened. I welcome this sort of examination.”