EXCLUSIVE by DOUGLAS SHEPHERD and OSSIE SHEARER
The publication of a notice by Scottish Borders Council, which invites developers to bid for the lucrative £6 million contract to build a museum to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland will have angered many of the objectors to the scheme.
The appearance of the contract notice on the Scottish Government's Public Contracts Scotland website on Friday of this week precedes consideration by the council of a highly controversial planning application, involving the removal of hundreds of trees from land at Tweedbank, near Galashiels to make way for the flat-roofed building.
One opponent told us: "Planning consent is now guaranteed otherwise this invitation to tender would not have been issued at such an early stage. The entire process has become farcical; first the local authority decided an environment impact study wasn't needed, and now it seems objecting to this costly project is a complete waste of time."
According to the notice SBC expects five potential developers will be asked to submit bids for the museum scheme which will cost £7.2 million, including VAT.
The notice claims: "The new Great Tapestry of Scotland Museum will be a high class visitor attraction and an asset of architectural importance to the Borders. It will provide a properly designed solution for displaying the tapestry and will be an instantly recognisable setting to hold local and international events."
Trustees and patrons of the tapestry charity have repeatedly slapped down critics of the proposal to house the 160 panels in the Borders. And yet the Borders public have yet to be given details of the arrangements under which the 143-metre long embroidery will be passed from Trust to Council.
Before any contract is awarded the terms and conditions attached to the arrival of the tapestry at Tweedbank should be made clear, an objector claimed. He said: "Presumably, the charity will retain ownership so that the visitor attraction can hang on to its charitable status. Does that mean SBC will lease the tapestry or will the local authority assume guardianship? We need to know".
The charity's latest published accounts show an operating loss of £59,068 for the financial year compared to a £58,827 profit in 2012/13. Total income fell from £180,351 to just £67,813 in 2013/14.
But the equivalent of more than half of the charity's income (£35,224) was loaned to a limited company called Tapestry Trading (Scotland) Ltd with the same registered address as The Great Tapestry of Scotland. Two of the charity's trustees are also directors of Tapestry Trading.
Will Scottish Borders Council take control of the trading company if and when the tapestry arrives for display in the region? Or will it remain a separate business entity?
The limited company's accounts record a trading loss of £15,000 for the year. The report adds: "Turnover includes amounts received from Royalties. The Royalties are generated from an exclusivity arrangement".
Does any proposed agreement between the parties mean the Royalty payments will become the property of the Council which may need all of the income it can get if the project is to become financially viable? Or will this income stream remain with Tapestry Trading's directors?
Critics have already claimed that calculations contained in the business plan,which estimates 47,000 visitors a year each paying a £10 entry fee will be required if the newest Borders tourist attraction is to break even, are totally unrealistic.