Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker fears Earlston’s community is in danger of ripping itself apart in the row over a new play park.
A councillor for the ward that includes the village, Mr Parker said Monday night’s meeting over the local community council’s role in the £300,000 lottery-funded project was one of the angriest he’d ever attended.
Around 80 members of the public packed into the church hall for the meeting, organised in response to a 28-signature petition calling on community councillors to explain their roles in the process, which last month saw the Earlston Community Development Trust (ECDT) awarded £250,000 from the BIG Lottery Fund for the project – just 10 months after a similar funding bid was knocked back.
And before Monday’s meeting, another petition opposing the project, this time with more than 500 signatures, was submitted.
Feelings were running high at the meeting, which saw a clear consensus that the area chosen for the play park – on land known as the Cauldie, next to the Leader Water – was not the best or safest location.
The planning application for the play park, lodged by the community council, had attracted 44 objections and a perception the project did not enjoy widespread public support, coupled with complex land ownership issues, were cited when the first bid was rejected.
With chairman Tom Burnham struggling to keep order on Monday, speaker after speaker demanded to know why the wider community had not been consulted over what happened after that original rejection – the acquisition of the Crown land by SBC and the successful lottery bid.
“It was as angry a meeting as I can recall attending,” Mr Parker, who wants all sides of the argument to be represented on a stakeholders group which he hopes to set up in April, told The Southern.
“It was pretty unpleasant and got quite personal at times.
“But we need some calm in the community and a stakeholder group to take this forward would be helpful.
“Transferring sites at this stage would not be straightforward, but everything can be explored. However, whether an alternative site can be delivered is a totally different thing and would not be straightforward. But I don’t think anyone wants to see the community rip itself to pieces over this.”
One villager at the meeting, Kevin Austin, says locals want a play park, just not at the Cauldie, which he said would be too dangerous.
He said: “We would love a park, but not there.
“They’d be building the park on a flood plain, luring kids next to where the river floods.
“I don’t think they understand how dangerous the river is, and how dangerous it is to cross the A68. Most of the town lives across the road. The whole village is behind getting the project moved somewhere safer.”
Fellow resident Rosemary Douglas, in a letter to the lottery, said: “I think it is safe to say that a majority of the residents of Earlston are grateful for the funding; we fully support the project to build a state-of-the-art play park, but we want it to be somewhere safer and more accessible to those likely to use it.”