COUNCILLORS HAVE VOTED unanimously in favour of transferring the Fochabers Institute into the hands of a local community group.
The Community Asset Transfer (CAT) for the historic building was a unanimous decision in favour of the Fochabers Village Association Ltd, a community company that aims to restore the building to full use.
However, the vote to agree funding of £150,000 to allow improvement works on the building was a more close-run affair, with 13 votes in favour and 11 against.
Those who voted against the funding believed that such a grant would set a precedent at a time when competing pressures were being placed on limited finances.
The majority argument that the CAT provided best value for the council in light of the buildings poor condition won the day – with a cost estimate of around £800,000 thought to be required to bring the Institute up to a satisfactory condition.
The motion to transfer ownership of the building was put by local councillors Sean Morton and Margo Howe. Councillor Morton said: “This has been a long time coming. I campaigned on this in 2012 – we promised we’d find a solution together and the community have worked tremendously hard to make that happen.
“The Council Administration were clearly dead against giving Fochabers the funding that would make taking on the building viable – but they’ve not had problems investing similar or larger sums in a whole host of other projects before.
“Thankfully Labour and SNP councillors teamed up to ensure we could give the community the start they need on this journey. I can’t thank everyone in Fochabers enough for their commitment. Now let’s make our hall a great success.”
The village association had made it clear that a CAT without the additional grant funding would have led their refusing ownership as they would not have been in a position to raise the funding required for renovation work.
Margo Howe welcomed the decision, saying that she was “absolutely delighted” that the joint SNP and Labour vote managed to defeat a “short-sighted position” adopted by the council administration.
She said: “A phenomenal amount of work has been done by volunteers in Fochabers to get to this position and they are fully committed to seeing this through and generating funding from various sources.
“This was a council owned building and after this one off grant to make it wind and watertight it will now be in the communities hands to grow the usage and make it viable and sustainable for the long-term.
“Had this not been supported it is highly unlikely that the community could have taken it on and the Council would have ended up spending that money and much more if the Institute were still to be used.
“As it is we have a great result for the community.”
The third local councillor serving the Fochabers/Lhanbryde ward, Douglas Ross, was also a strong supporter of the CAT being granted but was unavailable for the Full Council meeting as he is currently on his honeymoon.