Tapestry centre gets green light

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A new visitor centre to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland is scheduled to open in Tweedbank in 2016/17.

It follows the decision of Scottish Borders Council to approve capital spending of £3.5million on a permanent home for the acclaimed community embroidery project.

The cash will be borrowed and repaid at £208,000 a year, including interest, over the next 30 years.

That strain on already depleted revenue resources was cited at last week’s full council meeting by Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, leader of the Conservative opposition group, who urged no action.

But with members of the ruling SNP/Independent/Lib Dem administration having been told to support the project, it was no surprise when a 21-10 endorsement was delivered after an hour-long debate.

The council’s cash commitment will be supplemented by £2.5million from the Scottish Government as part of its blueprint to maximise the economic benefits of the Borders Railway, which will terminate at Tweedbank – close to the visitor centre site.

The actual construction will cost £5million, with the £1million balance available for infrastructure improvements, including footways and the provision of car and coach parking for the estimated 130 visitors a day.

A detailed business case from consultants, hired for £40,000 by the council, projected that the two-storey circular building would, after three years in operation, attract 47,000 paying customers annually. Adult admission will be £10.

The private trust

The actual tapestry, comprising 160 hand-embroidered panels and charting the history of Scotland, will be set out in a radial pattern on the first floor.

Councillors were told that the total cost of repaying the borrowed £3.5million will be £6.3million over 30 years. A previous estimate of £8.25million had been overstated due to a “miscalculation of interest rates”.

Although SBC’s corporate services director Rob Dickson said he was unaware of any “rival bids” to host the art work, leader, Councillor David Parker, claimed other communities, including Perth, Alloa and Linlithgow “wanted the tapestry”.

Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP) felt the centre would be an attraction of “national and international significance” and that the predictions for visitor numbers contained in the business case were “compelling and realistic.”

David Page, the architect who designed the building, said the tapestry bore comparison to major similar attractions, including the Bayeux Tapestry and the Overlord (D-Day) Embroidery in Portsmouth.

Councillor Ballantyne said she was more concerned about the council’s spending priorities.

“For the last few years, this council has had to make significant savings, reducing some services and completely removing others,” she said.

“The business plan does not give me sufficient comfort to possibly justify taking £208,000 a year out of the likes of education, roads and social work for the next 30 years.”