Fochabers community hit by last-minute hitch over Institute plans

Fochabers Institute
Fochabers Institute – restoration plans hit by procedural error

A VILLAGE COMMUNITY were left scratching their heads in disbelief as councillors were informed that a last-gasp look at the rules would mean further delays to restoration plans for a community hall.

Members of the Fochabers Village Association had expected a recommendation would pass through Moray Council’s policy and resources committee on Tuesday, with a pre-prepared report offering three options to councillors.

That would have allowed the building, valued at £110,000, to pass into their ownership under Community Asset Transfer (CAT), along with a £150,000 grant for urgent repairs to the building.

But the association – and several councillors – were left stunned when corporate director Mark Palmer revealed he had only discovered that morning that the committee did not have the authority to make funding decisions over the value of £50,000.

Under questioning from Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor Douglas Ross, Mr Palmer could not say if any previous CAT decision taken by the committee had breached rules, Mr Palmer saying only that CAT was still very much a “learning process” for the council.

Mr Palmer told the committee that the village association should also “be given the opportunity to present a stronger business case” than they have done, so as to justify the level of investment they were requesting.

Councillor Ross criticised the level of communication between council officials and the village association – and asked why the fact committee members could not make a decision on the issue had not been fed back to them ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

He said: “That we could not make a decision on this was not fed back to local members and throughout this process there has been a lack of dialogue between the council and members of the Fochabers Village Association.

“The group is desparate to get the approval to move this forward and this delay will have a knock-on effect on the funding streams that are essential for this project to go further. The building is in the state it is because the council has neglected it in many ways over a number of years.”

Further doubt was cast over the future of the building when Councillor Ross’s proposal that the committee lodge a recommendation to the next meeting of the Full Council that the CAT be approved subject to a satisfactory business case.

That was defeated by seven votes to five by an amendment proposed by Councillor Anne Skene, who had argued that councillors “could be setting a risky precedent” by granting funding of £150,000 in addition to an asset transfer.

Councillor Skene’s motion will now mean that the entire matter will be referred to the next meeting of the Full Council without any recommendation from the policy and resources committee.

After the meeting the chair of the Fochabers Village Association Ltd, Gordon Christie, said he was shocked as the decision was not what they had expected, adding that original plans to have the work done to the Institute this summer “would now face delay”.

Mr Christie insisted that the association had not received any feedback since they submitted their business plan, adding: “We thought that it fully addressed all the benefits a community asset transfer would bring to the council.”