SCOTTISH Borders Council (SBC) must “rebuild trust” with the region’s communities, according to one of its elected officials.
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell made the comment during a full SBC meeting on Thursday, August 26.
Officials were asked to approve a report on the next steps for ‘place-making’ in the Borders – with the role of communities outlined as a key aspect.
“There has developed, over many years, a distance between the council and communities and this report is intending to tackle that, but in some instances there’s some cynicism about what the council is actually up to,” said Mr Bell, of the SNP.
“This could be a real opportunity to reset the relationship between the council and communities.”
Adding that place-making must come from the community, he said: “Too many well-intentioned initiatives of this council have started here at full council or committees and then radiated outwards or downwards to our communities.”
According to a council report, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the “potential of local places to act effectively and collaboratively in both identifying and addressing local needs”.
The report is intended to “provide a baseline” for how the council can “recognise and value the importance of place in the way decisions are made”.
“It provides a challenge to the assumptions that are made about communities without their participation,” the report states. “It does this by asking for answers to straightforward questions before decisions are taken on what to do, and what to stop doing.”
It adds: “The timescales associated with these programmes will not be consistent with a uniform roll out of place-making across the Scottish Borders.
“A pragmatic approach is needed which recognises this and makes the most of available opportunities balanced with the continuing financial constraints experienced by both the council and its partners.
“This will mean a prioritised and focused approach to ensure that finite capacity and resources are used to best effect.”
SBC chief executive Netta Meadows told the meeting: “We’re going to have to have some honest and difficult conversations about our priorities and what we can and can’t achieve, and manage people’s expectations.”
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson, of the SNP, said: “Another agenda of ours is to reduce our assets and change how we run services.
“They’ll be communities who think, ‘You’re not listening to us, you’re trying to find out what we will let you take away from our communities’.”
A table in the report outlines ‘potential shortlist communities for initial place-making activity’ – with Galashiels, Tweedbank, Jedburgh, Kelso and Innerleithen among the places on the list.
Responding to concerns about the shortlist, Ms Meadows said: “We don’t have indefinite resources and people who can work on this.
“We have to start eating the elephant somewhere. That doesn’t mean those areas [not currently on the shortlist] won’t get considered.”