Friday February 10th 2023
A impression of what the new Destination Hillend would look like.
Councillors were forced to axe plans to run a glamping site and offer luxury hospitality as part of a new ski centre project after costs rose to £37million, it has been revealed.
Midlothian Council’s ambitious Destination Hillend project has seen prices spiral since it was first agreed four years ago.
Now it has been revealed in reports, presented to councillors at a private meeting in December and published under a Freedom of Information request from the Local Democracy Reporting Service, that councillors had to give up some of the plans for the project.
And they also agreed to charge visitors to use the new 412-space car park which will be built as part of the centre.
The reports reveal that in a series of private meetings councillors were advised to drop plans to run its own glamping site or provide bar/restaurant and function suites at the new centre as well as backing the introduction of car parking charges for visitors.
A new business model was presented to councillors and approved but still leaves them facing a £31million bill for the upgraded ski centre – compared to its original cost of £13.8million in 2019.
Midlothian Federation of Community Councils (MFCC) has voiced its concern at the increasing costs of the scaled down project.
The local authority is considering scrapping community funding grants as part of a bid to plug a £14million hole in its budget for the coming year and the MFCC has appealed to them to reconsider the decision.
News of the increased costs of the HIllend project has caused frustration they said.
Robert Hogg, chair of the MFCC, said “We share the frustration of many over the escalating costs of the Hillend project.
“Council funding is complex and we understand the Hillend investment cannot be diverted to frontline services due to the rules that apply to Midlothian Council’s separate Capital and Revenue funding pots.
“Whilst the forecast is for Hillend to eventually contribute £1m per year to the funds available for frontline services, we are concerned at the significant rise in project costs and the potential for future losses.”
The approved revised business case for Hillend states: “The food offer will become more streamlined, focusing on a high volume, high turnover food offer, removing the bar/restaurant and function suite element of the development.”
It adds: “The client team from sport and leisure are supportive of this measure as it focuses Destination Hillend more clearly on the family food offer, away from corporate hospitality and a potential alcohol offer, which they anticipate could result in friction between different user demographics within the facility.”
The new model also removes original plans for the council to run a large glamping site in a field next to the centre, instead agreeing to allow a third party to lease the field and run it themselves with the council receiving income from the lease.
The introduction of car park charging was initially given the go ahead behind closed doors by councillors in October and has been added into the business model which was approved at another private meeting in December.
The proposed charges however have been redacted from the documents which have been made publicly available.
When it was first approved in 2019 the original £13.8million council investment was meant to see the redevelopment of the Hillend ski centre, which has the longest dry ski slope in the UK, and included a promise to create the highest zip wire in the UK and create an activity dome, hotel accommodation, a glamping site for wigwams, and shopping and food retail areas.
In 2021 the amount set aside in the capital budget was £24.68m and the hotel plans were scrapped.
At a meeting of Midlothian Council last month Conservative Councillor Peter Smaill questioned why the local authority was pushing ahead with the project when it has to find £14million in savings to balance the coming year’s budget.
However the council has said Destination Hillend will create around 150 jobs during construction and up to 157 jobs from when the facility is finished adding the project is forecast to bring in just over £1 million a year to the council, helping support other council services and benefiting the wider local economy by up to £3.8million.Tweet Share on Facebook