SELKIRK is set to reap the benefits of more than £2million being ploughed into the town’s infrastructure thanks to government and council coffers being opened.
The first slice of good news came earlier in the week when senior Scottish Borders councillors and local authority officials revealed that £900,000 had been included in the draft budget for the next five years for the construction of a synthetic sports pitch in the town.
There was also confirmation of 20 per cent funding from the council towards the planned flood prevention scheme for the Royal Burgh – the remainder is expected to come from central government funds. And then on Tuesday, the town’s winning streak continued with the announcement Historic Scotland had agreed to fund town centre improvements to the tune of £750,000.
“This is Selkirk’s moment,” a delighted Viv Ross told The Wee Paper this week, after Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop broke the news of the regeneration cash.
“I’m just chuffed to bits the funding bid has been successful,” said Ms Ross, just one of many community members who have worked, with the help of Scottish Borders Council officials, over many years to secure the money from Historic Scotland.
And with match funding from the local authority, the final sum could double to £1.5million for the five-year project to repair and improve the Market Place and High Street.
“I’m delighted all the hard work everybody put in has paid off,” added Ms Ross, who led the team that compiled the local action plan which underpinned the bid.
Lawrence Robertson, chair of the project steering group, echoed her joy at the good news, saying: “The steering group has worked closely with the community, local businesses and partners to develop this bid, so we are delighted all this hard work has come to fruition.”
Mr Robertson, who is also the co-director of the Selkirk Regeneration Company, added: “I am sure this project will help strengthen the community commitment, and act as a real catalyst for future regeneration activity in Selkirk.”
The £750,000 windfall is awarded by Historic Scotland’s Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS) and will pay for “heritage and conservation-based regeneration activities”.
The project will focus on a range of initiatives, including town centre public realm works focused around the Market Place; a town centre priority buildings grant scheme – which will include Sir Walter Scott’s former court house – a small properties repair grant scheme, and heritage-related education and training initiatives.
The Selkirk heritage project is scheduled to launch locally in spring/summer 2013.
Graeme Easton, who led a community learning and participation team tasked with engaging young people, added: “Selkirk has never been in this position before. Now we’ve got the go-ahead and the money in the pot, it opens up a wonderful opportunity for all the working groups involved.”
The minister’s announcement also received unanimous support from the three elected members for Selkirk.
Councillors Vicky Davidson, Michelle Ballantyne and Gordon Edgar commented in a joint statement: “We are delighted with today’s news. Selkirk has seen a notable decline within the town centre over the last few years with reduced footfall, increasing vacancy rates in our local shops, and deterioration in some of our prominent buildings.
“Funding support from Historic Scotland with match funding provided by Scottish Borders Council will help to reverse this decline and address some of the key issues in Selkirk’s town centre.”
Announcing all 12 local authority areas across Scotland which were successful in their bid, Ms Hyslop said: “Our historic environment plays a key role in communities and this funding provides an opportunity to invest back into the historic fabric and back into the heart of communities. It also provides the opportunity to help stimulate economic regeneration, a key priority in today’s economic climate, be that through a new end use or rejuvenating an existing facility.”
Reflecting on the recent turn in Selkirk’s luck, Ms Ross added: “With the £15,000 Leader funding for the pop-up shop project, and £10,000 Awards For All for Scott’s Selkirk and the town’s Christmas lights, I just feel this is Selkirk’s moment.”
Late last year, Awards For All also gave a £9,955 lottery grant to Selkirk’s first biannual contemporary arts festival in September, called the YES Festival, which stands for Yarrow, Ettrick and Selkirk.
Together with the newly-announced cash to regenerate the centre of the town, SBC leader David Parker said it all represented “quite a big chunk of money” being invested in Selkirk.
He told The Wee Paper: “The new pitch will be a full-sized artificial pitch and can be done sooner due to money becoming available earlier – although it will still be subject to planning permission.”
As for work on the town centre, Mr Parker said it could mean quite a change for the town. “It could be a bit like in Melrose,” he said, referring to changes to the traffic system and pedestrian areas in the middle of the town.
The new pitch will be located on the middle playing surface of the three existing sports pitches at Selkirk High School.
Councillor Davidson (Selkirkshire, LD) is delighted the pitch project has finally managed to get squeezed into the local authority’s capital spending plans.
“Plans have been drawn up for a sand-dressed surface – there was general agreement this was the best surface for the high school,” she said.
“It will have floodlighting and will be enclosed and will be a full-sized pitch suitable for hockey. It will have community use outwith school hours, and will possibly be managed by the Borders Sports and Leisure Trust.”
Ms Davidson said the council was currently looking to external funding partners to assist with costs, including SportScotland.
“If they come on board then we might be able to do it quicker than 2015/16.”