Selkirk being ‘unfairly treated’ in common good wrangle

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A LIBERAL Democrat councillor has criticised her local authority for retaining £83,000 from the sale of Selkirk common good land, writes Andrew Keddie.

It’s the latest turn in an ongoing wrangle over the fund’s property and cash.

“This is very unfortunate and patently unfair,” said Selkirkshire’s Vicky Davidson after she failed in a bid to have the money – paid by a local housing developer for Rosebank Quarry in 2005 – transferred to the town’s common good fund.

Instead, Scottish Borders Council voted 23-2 to keep that capital receipt and set it against the £178,000 which it claims it has spent on Selkirk’s Victoria Halls. The balance will be considered a donation to the fund.

Like the quarry, the halls were conceded earlier this year as being part of the common good fund and not owned by the Newtown-based council.

The matter of the £83,000 was included in a report which sought approval for a set of principles to govern the management of common good assets which are occupied by the council.

“This was basically about buildings that are important to the dignity of burghs, like public halls and clock towers, and buildings used by the council,” explained Councillor Davidson.

She went on: “These properties will have all maintenance, utility bills and rates paid by the council, along with capital works, such as roof repairs and new boilers.

“The only proviso is that if common good working groups decide to terminate SBC’s use of the premises, then compensation would be paid to the common good.

“Not surprisingly, this recommendation was approved.”

But Ms Davidson took serious issue with the report’s second recommendation concerning land and buildings, such as the quarry and the Victoria Halls, which had recently been discovered to be owned by the common good and not SBC, and an adjustment between the council’s general spending fund and common good funds.

The councillor claimed: “This seemed designed specially for the Selkirk situation. It outlined that any cash receipt from the sale of such assets should be offset against any capital expenditure that had taken place on the buildings.

“To apply a different approach retrospectively in Selkirk’s case was, to my mind, both illogical and inconsistent.

“The council has known for 16 months that the £83,000 should have been paid back to the Selkirk common good and I have been asking for this to happen for some time. Then this report comes along which makes specific reference to the Selkirk issue and constructs a convoluted argument to make sure the money isn’t paid back.

“If there had not been a juxtaposition of the roof repair to the halls and the sale of the quarry, the injustice in taking this different approach in Selkirk is glaringly obvious.”

Councillor Davidson went on: “For instance, the Tait Hall in Kelso is now known to be part of that town’s common good and has had £194,000 spent on it by the council over the 10 years, but the common good in Kelso is not being asked to contribute towards this.

“And if the building needs a roof repair next year, Kelso common good will not be expected to contribute in line with the new policy.

“This is patently unfair and it was disappointing my Selkirkshire colleagues (Kenneth Gunn and Carolyn Riddell-Carre) did not support me.”

The councillor added: “The council has to be seen as acting fairly and I think it was very unfortunate that this retrospective approach has been taken simply because there was a receipt of money in Selkirk.”