COUNCIL OFFICIALS WERE caught flat-footed at a committee meeting this week when they were challenged on how much lighting Elgin’s Landshut Bridge was costing the local authority.
At yesterday’s meeting of the economic development and infrastructure services committee there was extensive discussion over a future strategic plan for Elgin.
Included were proposals for major new parking and lighting strategies as well as environmental and signage improvements. During the debate, Councillor Douglas Ross sought assurances over the cost of the proposals, saying he had concerns over if they would be kept under control.
Citing the lighting that had been added to the new Landshut Bridge, the Tory councillor asked officials what the cost was for installing the decorative lights and their ongoing maintenance. When he received a response that the figures were not to hand, he provided them to officials.
Following the meeting, Councillor Ross told insideMoray: “While the lights under the Landshut Bridge may be pretty I’m concerned that when other council services are being cut we could be spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money for more lights around Elgin.
“The fact that no council officer knew how much the lights on Landshut bridge cost reaffirms my fear that because it is taxpayers’ money that is being spent there is less concern about value for money.
“A quick Google search in preparation for the committee allowed me to find the decorative lights on Landshut bridge cost over £66,000 – and has an annual maintenance cost of over £1000 per annum. I have to ask if it should really be a priority of the council to spend taxpayers’ money on these lights when we see cuts elsewhere.
“Also council officers, as budget holders, have to be able to answer basic questions about what they propose. To not be aware of the cost of projects does not give me or the public any reassurance that best value and prudent spending of public money is a priority of officers.”
SNP Councillors backed the strategy for the city, which came about following extensive consultation earlier this year – although some of their number had concerns.
The SNP economic development spokesman, Councillor Graham Leadbitter, said: “I believe this report fairly reflected the issues raised by the public at the recent consultation that took place over several days in St Giles Church.
“The proposals that have come out are a mixture of quick wins and medium and longer term goals and I am pleased that out of that we have a clear set of actions to take forward now.
“A review of parking strategy is long overdue. It was opposed a few years ago, much to my frustration, but it has now been backed. The review of lighting is also to be welcomed, as are actions to improve the streetscape and signage.
“We have some amazing buildings and spaces in Elgin and it is vital that we get the best use of those and connect them together for locals and visitors alike. Getting unused upper floor space revitalised is a particularly important action from this report and, again, long overdue.”
Included in the review, which was passed by the committee, is a proposal to trial bus and taxi access to the currently pedestrianised area of the High Street.
However, there was concerns on that issue raised by Councillor Patsy Gowans, who said: “The majority of actions in this report are great and will improve Elgin – but I believe bringing vehicles back onto the Plainstones is a backward step.
“We are beginning to see outdoor seating in the High Street and more major events such as last weekend’s Food & Drink Festival that use the space well and I just don’t see how bringing vehicles back would encourage that.
“I know there are some folk who believe bringing vehicles back would benefit the High Street but I also hear many people opposed to the idea and who value the pedestrian space.”