A £500,000 football pitch currently being created in the middle of a forest near Selkirk as part of the London Olympics celebrations has been labelled a “ridiculous waste of money”.
Member of the public Vivienne Nash hit out at the Cultural Olympiad art commission alongside the A699 road to St Boswells by artist Craig Coulthard at Monday’s Selkirk Community Council meeting.
But a motion by vice-chairman Dr Lindsay Neil that “This council thinks this is a ridiculous waste of money” received no support.
However, Mrs Nash and husband Alistair are still angry with what she describes as the “desecration of the forestation in general” and the effect on local wildlife of a large number of trees being cut down to make way for the pitch.
She told TheSouthern: “Our concern is that this cash could have been better spent throughout the Borders.
“I am aghast that there is so little known about this. One of the community councillors thought the site was at Bowhill.
“The Duke of Buccleuch (whose land the art work is on) is entitled to do what he wants with his land but what is the point in playing just two football games on it.
“When I look at the flooding problems at the rugby ground at Philiphaugh, for example, I think that money could have been put to much better use.”
Mrs Nash added: “We found out about it as Alistair walks our dog first thing in the morning and in the evening and noticed the work.
“When I saw Craig Coulthard on the front of TheSouthern (in May) I phoned my husband at work and he could not believe it.
“I have spoken to a number of people about it and almost every time they have not known about it and then thought it was a joke when I told them what was going on.
“It just seems to have been swept under the Selkirkshire carpet.”
The project named Forest Pitch, inspired by a flight taken by Mr Coulthard which flew over the dense forests of the Borders, is one of 12 taking place in the UK for the Cultural Olympiad, and the only one in Scotland.
But it has already attracted criticism from Dougie Anderson, head of Scottish Borders Council’s sports development unit, and Peebles councillor Graham Garvie, who described it as “plain bonkers”.
At its launch in May, Mr Coulthard defended his commission, saying: “The issue with the money is understandable, especially with budgets being cut, but it’s not really relevant as it was National Lottery funding which was set aside for this project.”
And he received support at Monday’s meeting from Selkirkshire councillors Kenneth Gunn and Vicky Davidson.
Councillor Gunn said: “This is not public money being used from Scottish Borders Council or the Scottish Government. The land is private and belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch who is quite happy with the project.
“If it is going to bring tourists to Selkirk then I don’t understand why people would want to get rid of it.”
Councillor Gunn also pointed out Mr Coulthard’s family ties to Selkirk, with his grandfather Jim having been Shoemakers’ Standard Bearer 59 years ago.
Councillor Davidson told the meeting she was “very much in favour” of the scheme which will include a changing room based on Gala Fairydean’s stand and benches for 1,000 spectators, both made of the felled spruce trees from the site.
She added: “£500,000 is being spent but it is being spent locally and the Borders is being promoted in all of the arts magazines in the UK and across the world. It will bring people to the region next year and beyond.
“The Duke of Buccleuch, who owns the land, was in favour of it and the felling and reseeding will be done in consultation with the Borders Forest Trust.
“The young Sitka spruce, which are grown to be felled, will be replaced by mature, broadleaf varieties and access to the site will be improved, allow more people to enjoy it in future.
“It’s an arts project, not a sports project and I would rather it came here than went somewhere else.
“The artist and Olympic officials came to Selkirk for an open meeting and answered questions (in May). I think the people of Selkirk should get behind the project and be grateful it is not going somewhere else.”
But Mrs Nash has taken up her concerns about the pitch, which will host the two games next July ahead of the London Games, with Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont.
He said: “At a time when the public finances are under so much pressure, serious questions must be asked about the appropriateness of spending so much money on this project.
“I am sure that there are dozens of local groups which could have put this funding to better use.”