I attended the public meeting at the Mechanics Hall in Brechin to discuss the Town Centre Regeneration Fund project.
I would like to thank Jim Milne for chairing the meeting and Angus Council for organising it, in the hope of giving Brechin residents the opportunity to hear the background and delivery of the project and to raise their concerns.
I was disappointed that so few local residents got the opportunity to air their views. With Councillors from all around Angus, MSPs and political party activists turning the event into a political circus.
I attended with a view to listening to the views of local people, and hoping to discover what lessons could be learnt. My fellow candidates for Angus North and Mearns in the upcoming Scottish Elections, Nigel Don and Alex Johnstone, came to be heard, not listen. Their questions demonstrated either their lack of knowledge of the project, or willful aim at political point scoring. In particular Mr Johnstone suggested that a Compulsory Purchase Order could have been used when he knows full well that would never have been possible.
It is not surprising that politicians get a bad name, given that point scoring was more important for many who attended, rather than establishing the facts and learning lessons.
It would appear that the SNP in Angus, faced with justifying the SNP Government’s decision to withdraw funding promised to Brechin, have decided that offence is the best defence. They have tried to throw mud at Angus Council’s handling of the project, which from my 15 years experience as a Project Manager, has been excellent.
In particular I was very disappointed at the deeply personal attacks made on Council officers who have clearly worked extremely hard to bring £1m of investment into Brechin and are clearly deeply personally disappointed at not having been able to secure the remaining £800,000 from the Scottish Government.
I was well aware of the issues in advance of the meeting and was very impressed with the council officers as they presented the facts, and it was very clear to me that they could not have done more to reach a satisfactory conclusion with the property owners involved. The reality was that they were undone twice by property owners who broke their promises to sell to Angus Council.
Furthermore, it appears that all Councillors had the opportunity to raise their concerns throughout the period of the project, at various meetings both in Forfar and in Brechin, but did not do so. As was said last night, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and all councillors, as well as those involved in the Brechin Town Heritage Initiative and the Brechin Area Partnership were given regular updates, as well as given the chance to ask questions and make suggestions.
Let us welcome the £1m of investment in Brechin, along with the private investment in the old Woolworths, and learn lessons for the future, rather than take every opportunity to turn Brechin’s economic circumstances into a political football.