Questions being asked about plans to demolish Jedburgh town centre building
Questions are continuing to be asked about the planned demolition of a Jedburgh town centre building shrouded in scaffolding for the last four years.
Misgivings have been expressed over how the decision to pull down the building, at the corner of Exchange Street and High Street, was reached, and calls are being made for greater transparency and accountability.
Councillors have been told their hands are tied and there’s nothing they can do to influence what happens next, however.
Scottish Borders Council announced plans to demolish the scaffolding-clad building in August after four years of work to try and salvage it.
A new building will be constructed by the council to replace it, with funding from Historic Environment Scotland, but the demolition plans are being met with mounting opposition among Jedburgh residents.
At a full meeting of the council yesterday, October 31, Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton flagged up the disquiet being voiced about the plans and asked Tom Miers, the authority’s executive member for planning, for a progress report.
“The executive member for planning and environment is no doubt aware of the current level of disruption caused by the large amount of scaffolding being used to support the dangerous building on the corner of High Street and Exchange Street,” Mr Hamilton told him.
“On behalf of residents and businesses being affected by this, could he please give us an update on the current position and brief outline on the next steps?”
Melrose and Leaderdale councillor Mr Miers replied: “This is a very vexatious and complicated project that has aroused considerable public concern, not just in Jedburgh but all over the Borders.
“Officers have given me a summary of what they’re doing to undertake this project, but before I read it out, I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s a complicated situation, not just in terms of the technical aspects of the project, but in terms of the accountability of the council in its activities.
“Specifically, I know a lot of public concern is to do with the way in which the council has enacted its obligation to ensure the safety of the building and to go down the route of destroying it.
“I want to emphasise that the council and its senior officers are performing this under their legal obligation set out in legislation and there’s nothing that we, as elected members, can do.
“In other words, the council is not accountable to its elected members in so far as it is fulfilling its legal obligations in terms of ensuring the safety of the building.
“What I think needs to be made clear is for the council to explain how it makes decisions about how it should fulfil its legal obligations as regards the safety of the building.
“I know there is public concern about whether those decisions have been made correctly, and we need to get clarity as to how those decisions can be carried forward.
“For me, there is a lack of clarity around to whom the council is accountable in that respect. It’s certainly not accountable to me. It’s something I don’t have control over and nor do elected members.”
The category-C listed building was constructed in 1866, but in 2015 issues such as falling masonry became apparent and scaffolding had to be put up around it.
It later emerged that its stonework was in a much worse condition than previously thought, and additional scaffolding necessitated the introduction of a one-way system in the town centre.
Carrying on, Mr Miers said: “Officers are continuing to negotiate with the owners to achieve a negotiated purchase of the property.
“They have the agreement of two of the owners, and talks are ongoing with the other four.
“At the same time, officers are taking forward a compulsory purchase order in case it is necessary.
“Officers have also been acquiring the necessary statutory approvals for the demolition of the existing building and preparing the final documentation.
“This will enable demolition to start as soon as ownership is secured.
“Architects have been appointed to develop a design for a replacement building.
“In the meantime, officers will continue to monitor the building to ensure public safety is maintained.”
In response, Mr Hamilton said: “Myself and the other Jedburgh councillors all attend various community meetings, and we sometimes have a lack of knowledge and understanding, and that is perhaps our responsibility but also the responsibility of the corporate side of things.
“Could I ask that the frequency of reporting is increased, to perhaps a monthly report, so that local members can disseminate the information out into the local community and they have assurances that we are going in the right direction with this building?”
Mr Miers agreed, saying he would pass that suggestion on to officers.