Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Expensive ego trip wrapped in a shroud


The lack of adequate documentation and a foreshortened consultation period has left angry opponents of the highly expensive Great Tapestry of Scotland venture by Scottish Borders Council seething and frustrated.

Written objections to the council's own planning application for a £4.5 million custom-built tapestry centre at Tweedbank must be lodged with the council by August 20, with the council deciding whether to grant itself approval for the costly scheme as early as next month. In the words of Littlejohn, of the Daily Mail, "you couldn't make it up".

SBC's unique dual role in this case - judge and jury - means they've already decided an Environmental Statement is not needed even though their chosen site for the building will involve riding roughshod over and through a Tree Protection Order they imposed themselves less than ten years ago. No less than 123 fine trees will require felling. Would a private developer be afforded this kind of special treatment?

 A pre-application consultation report has been rendered surplus to requirements while the normal three month period allowed for the lodging of submissions on major applications has also been set aside.

Nevertheless, a steady trickle of letters of objection is finding its way onto the planning department's web pages with a fair number of opponents letting off steam by telling the council exactly what they think of their financially risky proposals to house the tapestry near the southern end of the Borders Railway. At the time of writing support from members of the general public seems non-existent.

A detailed appraisal of the "flawed" planning application by Mr Jonathan Parrott FRICS, from West Linton, sums up the feelings of many of us who would rather see SBC allocating resources to essential services. Unfortunately the council appears to have taken its eye off the ball so far as the delivery of those core services are concerned.

As Mr Parrott says: "I have previously made public my objections to the scheme on the basis of cost to the public purse and investment based upon a questionable business plan." And so say nearly all of us!

But he goes on to point out the many aspects relating to the detailed planning application which raise important questions, and where the data employed or building construction proposals are flawed.

In an eloquent four-page submission, Mr Parrott claims: "I feel that SBC and their architects Page Park (PP) are paying an element of lip service to some of the processes involved in progressing the scheme."

In a reference to the wooded area which will have to be cleared to facilitate the large new building alongside Tweedbank's industrial estate, Mr Parrott points out: "It cannot be acceptable for SBC to be supporting the wholesale removal of many fine specimens of deciduous and less usual evergreen trees.

"PP do themselves no credit by inferring that the loss of ash trees is acceptable because they will only go through (ash) die-back anyway. What sort of attitude is it that permits this wanton vandalism in the name of an ego-driven project?"

He is also less than complimentary about the design of the proposed tapestry centre, likening the exterior to a merry-go-round, and dismissing it as a building with no merit.

Mr Parrott continues: "The creation of a status building in this location is truly the making of a silk purse from a sow's ear. And one feels that the various consultants supporting this expensive misadventure are, to borrow another euphemism, exploiting SBC's tendency to see itself as the Emperor with a set of new clothes".

One can only agree with Mr Parrott that the application should be refused, or at the very least be passed back for re-submission. As he observes: "Too many fundamental requirements for a democratic consideration of such an expensive development have not been complied with.

"This undistinguished building will be located in an entirely inappropriate location. This whole venture is driven by some massive egos with no respect for the ultimate payer, the general public."

We can only hope the Emperor and his entourage treat Mr Parrott's letter with the respect it deserves before deciding to abandon their folly even if it means the Borders misses the chance to accommodate a tourist attraction of doubtful value.

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