Midlothian council confirms Hillend costs have trebled

Thursday February 2nd 2023

Destination-Hillend-go-ahead


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Cash-strapped Midlothian Council, which has proposed cutting teacher numbers to balance the books, backed a £31 million ski centre upgrade behind closed doors, it has emerged.

Midlothian councillors need to find £14 million in savings in the next year in order to balance the books.

Despite this, elected members agreed to increase approved funding for the Destination Hillend project from the original £13.8m to £31.1million at a private meeting which the public were not allowed to attend. It is not known how many of Midlothian’s 18 councillors voted against the proposal.

The local authority insist that once the new upgraded resort opens it will generate additional income of £1million a year for council services.

However a meeting of the council this week heard it needs to find more than £14 million to plug a gap in next year’s budget with cuts to teaching jobs, library staff, community funding, crossing patrols and policing proposed to try and save money.

At that meeting Conservative Peter Smaill said it was “the wrong time to be pursuing the £33m investment into Hillend” – the first time the public were made aware of the new running costs.

Initially in 2019 the council agreed a £13.8m capitals funding for the ambitious upgrade which would see the redevelopment of the 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.

In December councillors received updates on the project and costs in a private meeting, with the public excluded on the grounds that they would be discussing “information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (other than the authority) and the “amount of any expenditure proposed to be incurred by the authority under any particular contract for the acquisition of property or the supply of goods or services”.

Within a week of the meeting the council issued a release confirming work would start on a new junction, access road and car park, which would be key to the new centre, but did not mention the increased project costs, Midlothian View article published 21/12/2022.

It said it is estimated 150 jobs will be created 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 benefitting the wider local economy by up to £3.8million.

At the time Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for economic development, Councillor Douglas Bowen said:

“We’re hugely excited to reach another key stage in this project to turn the snowsports centre into a national, if not international, tourist attraction and to safeguard the future of a facility already well-loved by everyone from Olympians to novice snowboarders.

“We make no apology for the scale of our ambitions – we’re confident the project’s unique location in the Pentlands and the quality and breadth of what will be on offer will push visitor figures up from around 139,000 a year to an estimated 485,000.”

A council spokesperson confirmed councillors had given the go ahead to increase the funds set aside for the upgrade to the resort at the private meeting.

They said: “The capital costs for Destination Hillend are £31.103m and all costs unchanged since the project was approved at council in December 2022.

“Increased capital costs since June 2021 are largely due to design development, with the engineering requirements of the main building’s substructure in particular better understood, and rising inflation affecting all capital projects at the moment.

“Destination Hillend is forecast to generate a net income to the council of in excess of £1 million when fully operational from 2025/26.”

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