LISTEN: James Laurenson gives his account on why the the Town Centre Fund has been reallocated across Highland Perthshire
Last week Perth and Kinross Council voted to reallocate money which was promised to Pitlochry’s community council after the council decided there wasn’t enough time to complete the project.
As part of the Town Centre fund granted from the Scottish Government, plans were in place to develop a project as part of the vision of the grant to regenerate town centres in Scotland.
Now community council chair James Laurenson says: “My concern is to try and take any blame off the community council for this debacle.”
He claims: “There’s no more we could have done, we have contacted people timelessly and we have done all we can do, and the council has just failed to respond.”
The Scottish Government say the grant ‘is to enable local authorities to stimulate and support place-based economic investments which encourage town centres to diversify and flourish, creating footfall through local improvements.’
Mr Laurenson explained: “At that particular time, we were only aware of one place, so that was the memorial garden in Atholl Road by the bus stop, and that was to us, and to me in particular, the part of Pitlochry which was most in need of regeneration.
“And the criteria was that it was actually a town centre regeneration that money was allocated to.
“That part of the town is very popular, the bus stop is there, most of the coming and goings are there, people coming into Pitlochry always seem to congregate in that area.
“Not just to sit in the sun and relax or whatever, they’ll go into a café and get a carry out and sit and have a coffee or an ice cream.
“And that part of the town is very busy, in the summer season with people just enjoying the area.
“I would hope that can be continued, but it is in desperate need of an update.”
In the council’s report detailing the timeline of engagements with the community, they say that their meeting in December of 2019, ‘the majority of those attending that meeting did not support the proposal’ which they put forward.
Thinking back to the plans to go ahead with the project Mr Laurenson explained ‘the plans drawn up for the town centre were okay, they were fine, but they weren’t of the quality we wanted.’
Explaining the disagreements, Mr Laurenson said: “For example, they were going to put down flag stones, which I didn’t like, I thought it would be nice to get nice, bright, colourful monoblocs and such like. And just modernise it really.”
The council report said: “The community recognised the potential benefits of the scheme regardless of their previously expressed views on initial concept layouts and that alternatives that had been suggested were currently insufficiently developed or would fail to meet funding criteria.”
By March 13, the council’s report explains ‘the conclusion of the meeting on 13th March was that the community wished to revert to the original preferred scheme proposed at the initial workshop by Elected Members for enhanced use of space at the Memorial Garden.’
Three days later the Secretary of State for Health announced that ‘unnecessary social contact should cease’ and by March 23 the Prime Minister announced that people must stay at home and certain businesses must close.’
Perth and Kinross Council now considered the future of the project and some months later, officers recommended the reallocation of funding within Perth and Kinross.
The report put forward to councillors to vote on read: “Subsequent to the meeting of 13th March, the pandemic did adversely impact officer capacity within the relevant Council departments needed to support any detailed design work as predicted.”
By not completing the project within the allocated time, the funding would have been withdrawn.
Highland Ward Councillor, John Duff, said when the report was made public: “It is extremely disappointing that we have been unable to agree and progress the project in Pitlochry.
“However, local elected members welcome the council’s commitment to continue with development of the project and its intention to identify other funding going forward.
“Pitlochry will still benefit from the introduction of a local full fibre network and free town centre Wi-Fi system.
“Officers are also bringing forward a new lighting scheme for the war memorial and memorial gardens.”
And reacting to the vote passed by councillors, fellow Highland War Councillor, Mike Williamson, said: “I feel that the project set off on the wrong foot when Perth & Kinross Council asked Councillors to nominate shovel ready projects which could demonstrate Community Support. This left many residents feeling excluded from the decision-making process and in my view the project never really regained momentum.
“With my colleague, John Swinney, we did manage to succeed in getting the Scottish Government to extend the funding deadlines in February last year, until March 2021.
“Along with a failure to resource additional officer time, I feel that it is a great shame that more use was not made of this additional time to bring this project to fruition.”
Looking ahead Mr Laurenson says that are still plans in place for the project, he said: “So that’s where we are now, they’ve taken the whole lot away from us, and we’ve lost it all.
“However, they have, in this letter I have here, offered to do some work on a lesser scale with funding which can be found elsewhere.
“They haven’t said where, they haven’t said how much, but the idea would be they would give us a bit less than we would probably want, but enough money to make it a vast improvement.”