Ambitious plans for community takeover of Jedburgh buildings

Wednesday September 16th 2020

Jedburgh-Town-Hall

Jedburgh Town hall

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Joseph Anderson

Jedburgh’s Town Hall, library and public toilets could be passed into the ownership of a community group as part of ambitious plans to rejuvenate the town.

In order to combat decreasing footfall and the poor state of some of the town’s buildings, Jedburgh has received significant investment from Scottish Borders Council over the last few years.

This includes the £35m intergenerational campus for Jedburgh Grammar School, the library and the town’s primary schools, the £1m Jedburgh Conservations Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS), and £1.8m from the council to demolish and rebuild the corner building in the town centre.

However, some of these schemes have proved controversial. The proposals to close the library building and move the service to the intergenerational campus became the focus of a petition in opposition to the plans, and the council’s insistence the corner building needed demolished was the source of much consternation in Jedburgh.

A public engagement meeting was held at the Town Hall in June 2019, to discuss the future use of the library, town hall and former grammar school buildings.

Out of this meeting, community representatives decided to form the Jedburgh Legacy Group, which is proposing to take over the oversight of some of Jedburgh’s historic buildings.

Further proposals include the formation of ‘Jedburgh Town Services’, which would take over the maintenance of play parks, grassed areas, flower beds and hedges.

The bodies to be involved in operating Jedburgh Town Services would be Jedburgh Community Council, Jedburgh Community Trust, Jedburgh Leisure Facilities Trust, Jedburgh Alliance, Jedburgh and District News Group (incorporating the Jedburgh Marketing and Tourism Group) and Jedburgh Horticultural Society.

Now, Scottish Borders Council has agreed to explore the group’s proposals, and to instruct officers to form a working group to bring forward detailed proposals for the transfer.

At a meeting of the council’s executive committee, a report was presented to councillors outlining the proposals, and the opinion of council officers. It reads: “The outline proposal is ambitious, challenging and complex.

“In Scottish Borders Council’s draft five-year Strategic Property Framework, the preferred solution for the Town Hall and Library building has been an asset transfer to the community and therefore this strategic fit is welcomed and supported where it complements other assets and services in the community.

“From an initial assessment of the proposal, it is officers’ views that there are a number of areas that need to be considerably/significantly strengthened in preparation of a formal business case being submitted.

“Any business case submitted will need to demonstrate how the project, which will rely heavily on grant-funding, will be financially sustainable.

“The main source of proposed funding is from the Community Choices 1% Framework Agreement for which process and guidance is still to be published.

“Income generation which will be critical for long term sustainability, is still to be developed and does not feature proportionally in the outline proposal so far.

“It is critical to an acceptable business case being submitted for asset transfer and to funders.

“This would appear to be the biggest challenge in creating a sustainable business case, particularly given the low starting point in terms of usage in both the Library and the Town Hall, and the commercial competition with other facilities such as the Campus, Port House and other community venues such as the Rugby Club.”

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, who acts as the authority’s member for economic development, told the meeting: “This is very ambitious, it’s a big ask for the council and it’s a huge ask for the community of Jedburgh as well to undertake all of this.

“I think we should absolutely recognise that the council has a place-based approach to looking at this, which is a clear example of us looking at the needs and challenges of Jedburgh and the council responding to that.

“There are huge and significant investments going into the town from the council, including for the CARS scheme, the shop front scheme, the repair of buildings, the flood defences, and of course the campus.

“I want us to be really optimistic about this, but I want us to have a really open and robust process with this so that hopes are not dashed too early, and hopes are not raised too early as well.”

Councillors agreed unanimously to further the proposals.

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