Councillors are being advised to pick Galashiels to be home to the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Members of Scottish Borders Council are due to make a long-awaited decision on where, if anywhere, a visitor centre housing the tapestry should be sited on Thursday, December 22, and they are being recommended by officers to opt for Galashiels rather than nearby Tweedbank.
The council has been in talks since February this year with the Scottish Government and other Borders Railway Blueprint programme partners about where the tapestry should go after having second thoughts about its decision to choose Tweedbank in December 2014.
A site in Galashiels said not to have been available when that original decision was made, in Channel Street and next-door High Street, emerged as the front-runner to host the tapestry earlier this year.
A due diligence process has now been completed by council officers, and they conclude that the old post office in Channel Street and the site of the former Poundstretcher store alongside it are a better bet than the Tweedbank location previously agreed.
A report to councillors says: “The Galashiels option has the potential to deliver a successful tourism and regeneration proposition in a way that the Tweedbank option does not.
“The Galashiels proposal provides the opportunity for additional education and community use that is not a feature of the Tweedbank proposal.
“Furthermore, the Galashiels site benefits from a significant degree of community support and is consistent with the Scottish Government’s town-centre-first principle in relation to place-making and regeneration.”
The Scottish Government has confirmed that its previous pledge of £2.5m towards the £7m cost of the project will be honoured if councillors plump for Galashiels, but that money might not be forthcoming were councillors to stick to their original decision to create a £6m purpose-built visitor centre at Tweedbank.
Council leader David Parker said: “The Great Tapestry of Scotland is of national and international importance, and siting it in the Scottish Borders will create a world-class tourist attraction.
“The Galashiels proposal now being recommended was not available for consideration when the tapestry project commenced, but earlier this year, due to the former Poundstretcher site becoming vacant and positive discussions with Royal Mail, an affordable and deliverable site in Galashiels has been identified.
“The site in Galashiels will benefit from enhanced support from a range of funders, and the site provides greater accommodation with more flexibility for the tapestry and other exhibits and facilities.
“The town centre site will have a significant regeneration impact on Galashiels and will bring many benefits to nearby businesses.
“Although both the Tweedbank and Galashiels sites have their advantages, there can be no doubt that, after careful consideration, Galashiels offers the greatest potential to provide a world-class attraction which will make a significant contribution to the Borders economy.”
The Leaderdale and Melrose councillor added: “Elected members will consider a very robust business case and due diligence report at the council meeting on December 22, when a final decision on the tapestry can be made.
“With tourism being a critical economic growth area for the Borders, and with the tapestry situated in the town centre, close to the new Borders Railway and benefiting from excellent road links, a really exciting and special tourist attraction can be delivered.”
Galashiels councillor Stuart Bell, the authority’s executive member for economic development, added: “If approved by councillors, the tapestry will help generate tourism and promote economic development in our area.
“While both sites have been thoroughly considered, Galashiels has been recommended because it offers the opportunity to develop a significant regeneration project for the centre of the town, with additional educational and community uses.
“The Galashiels proposal is in line with the Scottish Government’s town-centre-first principle, which encourages the public sector to continue to invest in town centres and help communities thrive, and also has significant support in the local community.”
Midlothian South Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, a long-time critic of the Tweedbank site, has welcomed the recommendation being made to councillors to reject it in favour of Galashiels.
It was Ms Grahame who referred the Tweedbank business case to the Scottish Government because of her concerns about that location, prompting the rethink expected to be confirmed later this month.
She said: “I now feel my opposition to Tweedbank and my support for Galashiels has been vindicated.
“My stance on this has not been without opposition, with one councillor resigning from the SNP because of it, but it’s important that we now move forward and make this a success for Galashiels.
“It will bring the town centre much-needed regeneration, build on the success of the railway and the transport hub, link in to the Heriot-Watt University campus with its textile and design focus and extend that regeneration as visitor follow the Borders Textile Trail through the wider area.”
Energise Galashiels chairman Mike Gray agrees, saying: “Galashiels as the home of the Great Tapestry of Scotland would be a game-changing boost to the town.
“This investment, if councillors decide to approve it, will provide a wonderful and unique attraction and will regenerate the old town centre, which is suffering from the impact of the massive changes in retailing.
“Energise Galashiels is delighted to see the town-centre-first principle in action and welcomes the support from the Scottish Government.
“It would create opportunities to expand existing attractions such as Old Gala House and establish the town as a visitor destination, building on our heritage of textiles and textile design.
“The tapestry would leverage investment already made in the Borders Railway and the infrastructure to transport visitors across the Scottish Borders, thus enhancing tourists’ experience of the region.
“Galashiels, as the home of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, has pan-Borders support from organisations such as Destination Scottish Borders and Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership, as well as Galashiels Community Council, Galashiels Chamber of Trade, the MacArts Centre and Galashiels Healthy High Streets.”
Tapestry trustees co-chairman Alistair Moffat added: “After more than 40 years in and around public life in Scotland, from running the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to being director of programmes at STV, I have been looking at audiences for a long time, but I have never seen anything like the reaction on the faces of the people who see the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
“Much more than a beautifully embroidered object, the power of this great work of art is immense, emotional, funny and quintessentially Scottish.
“People weep and laugh as they make their way around the story of our nation – and the story of themselves.
“It would be wonderful if the tapestry could tell the great sweep of the history of Scotland in Galashiels.”
The report to be considered by councillors will be available on the council website, www.scotborders.gov.uk, from Thursday, December 15.
If approved, the Galashiels proposal would see the town’s old post office building brought back into use and the former Poundstretcher unit demolished and a new building created in its place linked to the post office.
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 created, along with Stow, Lauder, Hawick, St Boswells, Jedburgh, Melrose, Kelso, Coldstream, Tweedmouth, Ednam, Gordon, Duns, Smailholm, Gordon, Peebles, Selkirk and West Linton.