Should Scottish Borders Council be contributing £1m towards the restoration of an historic, but structurally deficient, bridge linking Scotland and England over the River Tweed?
The council’s executive thought so on August 15, when it agreed to add an extra £450,000 to the £550,000 which SBC has already allocated to the Union Chain Bridge between Fishwick in Berwickshire and Horncliffe in Northumberland.
And this week, the council’s watchdog scrutiny committee, after a hearing, endorsed that enhanced spending commitment.
Built in 1820, the Union is the oldest single span suspension bridge in the world which still carries traffic.
A report to the executive confirmed that estimated total costs of repairing and restoring the threatened structure had gone up to £7.8m and that Northumberland County Council had already agreed to make a £1m spending commitment ahead of a stage one bid for Heritage Lottery funding.
Monday’s scrutiny hearing was ordered after opposition councillor David Paterson (Ind, Hawick and Hermitage) “called in” the executive decision to take the additional £450,000 from the council’s roads and bridges budget. After taking evidence from SBC officers involved in the restoration project, scrutiny endorsed the extra spending “subject to other sources of funding being available”.
Scrutiny committee chairman Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP) said: “We have asked officers to report back to the executive in April on the outcome of the Heritage Lottery Fund application. If the bid fails, we need to consider fully costed alternatives.
“We are also recommending closer collaboration between SBC and Northumberland County Council on any future decisions.”