Should Scottish Borders Council borrow £3.5million to create a permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank?
That is the capital spend, involving loan and interest repayments of £8.25million over 30 years, which elected members will be asked to sanction today (Thursday).
If approved, the money will be allocated over the next two financial years to build a two-storey visitor centre for the giant artwork at a tree-covered council-owned site close to the Tweedbank rail terminus.
A paper recommending the move indicates the total cost of construction will be £6million with the Scottish Government, as part of a deal to maximise the economic impact of the Borders Railway, contributing the £2.5million balance. The report, by SBC officers, is based on a business case and a design feasibility study produced by two private consultants for a combined cost of £40,000.
The business case assumes that 55,000 people will visit the centre in its first year to view the tapestry. The visitor numbers are expected to fall to 50,000 in year two before settling at 47,000 thereafter. Although the entry charge will be £10 per adult, discounts for families, school and other concessionary groups are expected to produce an income yield of £6 per admission.
On these assumptions, the report indicates the centre – with a café, gallery and workshops complementing the main exhibition area – will produce an annual surplus of £22,000 from year three. The council’s capital spend of £3.5million, involving an annual loan repayment of £275,000 over 30 years, will see the local authority own the building in perpetuity. It will be leased to a new ad hoc trust which must operate without any further calls on the public purse.
The two studies, which focused purely on Tweedbank, were authorised by the council in May, despite some members claiming the tapestry would be better sited in towns with an established textile heritage.
Now that the extent of the council’s required financial commitment is known, that dissent is expected to find expression at today’s full council meeting.
Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative opposition group, told The Southern she would vote against the recommendation.
“As always our group will vote as individuals, but the general consensus is that while we might welcome the tapestry to the Borders, we cannot support the use of council budgets at a time when the administration is having to cut frontline services,” said Mrs Ballantyne
“It’s a question of priorities … as elected members we would be failing our constituents if we allow this through without a fight.”
At least two members of the ruling administration – Hawick independents Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall – will also break ranks to oppose the proposal.
“Stuart and I have made it clear we will not support the tapestry,” said Councillor McAteer. “I cannot agree to spending £3.5million in capital with significant additional annual revenue costs at a time when council taxpayers are suffering reduced services.
“I would be happy to see the tapestry in the Borders as long as it does not cost Borders taxpayers a penny.”