Councillor ‘astonished’ at £200k demolition bill write-off

A HAWICK councillor says he is astonished Scottish Borders Council has written off a £201,000 debt for the demolition of St Margaret’s and Wilton South Church, writes Kenny Paterson.

Stuart Marshall believes the pursuit of the six-figure sum – which was spent by SBC in 2001 to pull down the former place of worship on safety grounds – should continue.

The council footed the bill as the owners of the site could not be traced and the local authority has now decided it is no longer worth chasing.

But Mr Marshall said: “I have asked council officials to assure me that everything has been done to try and retrieve this large sum of public money.

“I was told several months ago when I asked SBC to conduct an owner search that they had, in fact, found the contact details and the owner was living in the USA.

“As of yet I am still waiting to hear from officials as to why we are not keeping this case open and exactly what measures SBC has taken to try and recover the debt.

“I am astonished that one moment we are supposed to have the details of the owner and the next that we are apparently going to write the debt off.

“I personally feel that we should be keeping this case very much open until everyone, including the local members for the area, are consulted with.”

The report presented to SBC’s executive last week wrongly named the demolished building as Wilton Church, which Hawick councillor Ron Smith pointed out was still very much open for business.

In the paper, SBC’s financial services manager Debbie Collins wrote: “Between 2001 and 2003 (St Margaret’s and) Wilton (South) Church in Hawick became unsafe due to dry rot.

“The council incurred £201,000 of expenditure initially making and subsequently demolishing the property on the grounds of public safety.

“Although the council secured a charging order against the site in an attempt to recover the costs involved, subsequent attempts to trace the owner have been unsuccessful and it is now recommended that the debt be written off as irrecoverable.”