Scottish Borders councillors voted today to give their stamp of approval for Galashiels to host the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Officers had urged elected members to choose the former Post Office in Galashiels as the option for the tapestry’s visitor centre, even though it was the most expensive one on the table.
They voted 26-7 in favour of using the historic building, along with the neighbouring former Poundstretcher store, to house the tapestry in a bid to raise footfall in the town centre and attract more people to the wider Borders.
The council has already spent more than £520,000 on efforts to create a visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland, and the Galashiels base will cost £6.7m.
It is two years since the council voted to allocate £3.5m in capital – repayable at £208,000 a year for 30 years – on a £6m permanent home at Tweedbank.
It was a decision informed by the “in-principle” commitment of the Scottish Government, through its Borders Railway Blueprint Programme, to contribute the required balance of £2.5m.
But the business plan for Tweedbank failed to stack up with the Government and, in June this year, the Poundstretcher site in Galashiels, linked to the listed former Post Office building next door, emerged as an alternative location.
Earlier this month it was announced that the Scottish Government, having assessed the business plans for both sites, had agreed to back the Galashiels option.
At today’s full council meeting, a report by SBC’s corporate transformation director Rob Dickson urged councillors to locate the new centre in Galashiels.
The project cost will be £6.7m, including £600,000 for site acquisition, compared to the £6m estimate for Tweedbank. Councillors were asked to confirm their £3.5m capital commitment, note the £2.5m from the Scottish Government and approve the submission of a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other funding sources not available to Tweedbank to bridge the funding shortfall of £700,000.
However, if these bids are unsuccessful, Mr Dickson warned: “The council will be required to underwrite any resultant funding shortfall.”
This, he suggests, would require the transfer of £345,000 already allocated to the Galashiels Inner Relief Road project and, as a last resort, the further borrowing of £355,000, repayable at £11,000 a year.
In terms of the revenue costs of the new centre and based on projected visitor numbers, the report estimates that, if the facility is managed by Live Borders, which runs the region’s sport, leisure and cultural services, it will record a deficit of £2,005 in its first year of operation.
But this will turn into surpluses of £23,755, £65,633, £59,027 and £56,160 over the next four years.
“This demonstrates the project has the potential to avoid any further financial burden to the council if the Live Borders operational model is implemented,” stated Mr Dickson.
However, he also notes that revenue costs are “best estimates” and he cautions: “Failure to meet visitor related income targets or to manage costs within the parameters set out in the business case [for Galashiels] will result in an ongoing subsidy being required.”
Selkirkshire Councillor Gordon Edgar broke from the administration ranks to move for no action, supported by all five Hawick councillors present – Stuart Marshall, Watson McAteer, George Turnbull, Ron Smith and David Patterson.
Leader of the opposition, Tory Michelle Ballantyne supported the move to Galashiels, as did all her fellow Conservative councillors apart from Jim Fullerton, the only other voter for no action.
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame has expressed her delight at the news.
Speaking after the decision was announced, Ms Grahame said: “It has taken a year since I referred the Tweedbank business case to the cabinet secretary when my concerns about that location were vindicated.
“All along I have said that Galashiels should be its home, which would regenerate Galashiels and the Central Borders.
“I now look forward to the proposal being realised and moving onwards to promoting Galashiels as a “Textile Town” and as the gateway to the existing Borders Textile Trail, creating much-needed jobs.”