Monday, 15 February 2016

Minister's concerns not mentioned at 'tapestry' meeting


The concerns of Scotland's Culture Secretary about Scottish Borders Council's £6 million plans for a custom-built gallery to house the Great Tapestry of Scotland in a permanent home at Tweedbank were not even mentioned when councillors considered the controversial topic last Thursday.

So it is unclear whether all elected members in the SBC administration and members of the opposition Tory group were aware that the project's business case and business plan would have to be thoroughly revised after the Minister, Fiona Hyslop voiced her misgivings in January.

Details of the Culture Secretary's important intervention have been revealed in a letter from Ms Hyslop to local SNP MSP Christine Grahame, whose constituency of South Midlothian, Tweeddale & Lauderdale includes Tweedbank.

Ms Grahame had already expressed serious doubts about the proposal to bring the tapestry to Tweedbank, claiming the business case was flawed, and it would be better to accommodate the acclaimed textile panels in one of the Border towns. The MSP had asked the Culture Secretary to examine the plans closely before sanctioning the Scottish Government's promised contribution of £2.5 million towards the scheme.

It has been reported that Ms Grahame's intervention did not go down well with Nationalist councillors on SBC who form part of the ruling group. They voted for the Tweedbank option on Thursday along with sufficient numbers of Independent and Liberal Democrat members to ensure the project was included in the capital programme even though it is seriously unpopular and dismissed as a total waste of money by large swathes of the Borders public.

Ms Hyslop has told Ms Grahame that the Borders Railway Blueprint Programme Leaders' Group - hardly a catchy title for such an important sounding organisation - first presented a business case dated December 2014, along with a paper recommending approval to a Scottish Government representative in December 2015.

The Minister's letter continues: "Following initial advice in January 2016 I expressed concerns regarding the sustainability of the proposals and their fit with the original ambition set out in the Blueprint document.

"The Leaders' Group was asked to relay these concerns to the Project Team and I am given to understand that a commitment has now been given to review and fully revise the proposals."

Ms Hyslop explains that until such time as a fully revised business case, associated design and business plan has been submitted to the Scottish Government and sufficient time has been taken to reassess proposals, it was not possible to confirm a timescale for a decision. It was also her assumption that following revision the business case would require approval by SBC themselves.

It would certainly appear that SBC would have been well advised to secure Government's full approval for their proposals before proceeding to chop down hundreds of trees at the Tweedbank site. But then the entire planning process associated with the proposed development has been laced with controversy and premature action.

As one council observer put it: "Ms Hyslop's proclamation can only be described as extremely embarrassing for the SBC hierarchy and potentially tricky for the SNP group and their unswerving support for a project with a business case which simply does not stack up".

"The Scottish Government would look foolish if they had accepted the scheme as it stands, and that is probably why it has been kicked back to the project group. I'm afraid not enough homework has been done in this case and it could be some time before the tapestry gets its new home."

Ms Hyslop's letter concludes: "It is in everyone's interest that robust due diligence is undertaken to ensure the success of the project. Please be assured that the Scottish Government will continue working in full partnership with SBC to support the delivery of the Blueprint ambition to maximise the full economic potential of the Borders Railway".

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