Plans for community takeover of Jedburgh’s town hall and library moving forward

Plans to take Jedburgh’s town hall, library and public toilets into community ownership as part of a wider regeneration bid have moved a step closer to being realised. 

By Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 11:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 11:15 am
Jedburgh's Castlegate library.
Jedburgh's Castlegate library.

Those takeover proposals were drawn up following Scottish Borders Council’s announcement last year of plans to relocate Jedburgh’s Castlegate library, local authority contact centre and community space currently provided at its Abbey Place town hall to its new £32m intergenerational campus at Hartrigge Park.

A public engagement meeting was held at the town hall in June 2019 to discuss the future use of that venue, the library and former grammar school at the Pleasance. 

That led to the formation of the Jedburgh Legacy Group, and it’s now proposing to take over responsibility for those and other historic buildings.

It’s also drawing up plans to take over maintenance of playparks, grassed areas, flowerbeds and hedges. 

Other organisations lined up to be involved in any such move would be Jedburgh’s community council, community trust, leisure facilities trust and horticultural society, plus the Jedburgh Alliance and Jedburgh and District News Group.

Executive members at Scottish Borders Council have now agreed to look into those proposals and have instructed officers to form a working group to draw up detailed plans for asset transfers. 

A report signed off by customer and communities service director Jenni Craig was presented to a meeting of the council’s executive committee yesterday, September 15, reading: “The outline proposal is ambitious, challenging and complex. 

“In the council’s draft five-year strategic property framework, the preferred solution for the town hall and library building is an asset transfer to the community and therefore this strategic fit is welcomed and supported where it complements other assets and services in the community. 

“From an initial assessment of the proposal, there are a number of areas that need to be considerably strengthened in preparation for a formal business case being submitted.

“Any business case submitted will need to demonstrate how the project, which will rely heavily on grant funding, will be financially sustainable.

“Income generation, which will be critical for long-term sustainability, is still to be developed and does not feature proportionally in the outline proposal so far, but it is critical to an acceptable business case being submitted for asset transfer and to funders. 

“This would appear to be the biggest challenge in creating a sustainable business case, particularly given the low starting point in terms of usage of both the library and the town hall and commercial competition with other facilities such as the campus, Port House and other community venues such as the rugby club.”

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the authority’s executive member for economic development, told the meeting: “This is very ambitious. It’s a big ask for the council and it’s a huge ask for the community of Jedburgh as well to undertake all of this. 

“I think we should absolutely recognise that the council has a place-based approach to looking at this, which is a clear example of us looking at the needs and challenges of Jedburgh and the council responding to that. 

“There are huge and significant investments going into the town from the council, including for the conservation area regeneration scheme, the shop front scheme, the repair of buildings, the flood defences, and, of course, the campus.

“I want us to be really optimistic about this, but I want us to have a really open and robust process with this so that hopes are not dashed too early and hopes are not raised too early as well.”

Councillors agreed unanimously to look further into the proposals.

That initial thumbs-up has been welcomed by Jedburgh Alliance chairman George Burt, saying: “We are very pleased that Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee has agreed to go ahead with our proposal on behalf of the people of Jedburgh to take on ownership of the town hall, library and public toilets, as well as some services currently delivered by the council.

“We have ambitious plans for the improvement and use of these facilities for the benefit of local people and organisations and for visitors to the town.

“This is going to be a springboard for many other initiatives in Jedburgh and will attract investment from other bodies.

“We look forward to the discussions with the council that will result in a successful transfer of ownership and management of these assets to the people of Jedburgh.”