HUNDREDS of people packed into the Ryan Centre in Stranraer on Monday after a meeting was called by local councillors to canvas opinion about to the best way to spend £2.4million.
Unaligned councillors Willie Scobie and Grahame Forster said it was time to save Stranraer after a recent survey revealed it was fourth in a list of Scottish towns most seriously affected by severe economic and social decline.
The money was allocated by Dumfries and Galloway Council to the Stranraer Waterfront Project but one councillor warned the money could not be regarded as a “lottery win” as there were restrictions on what it could be used for.
After the meeting, Mr Scobie said: “The response was tremendous. There must have been 300-plus people there. The were there to demonstrate the strength of feeling that the Waterfront and the town centre projects are not moving forward or getting the attention they should. People are very passionate about this but they are angry and frustrated at the lack of progress.
“We wanted to hear how the residents wanted the £2.4 million spent. Top of the list was rejuvenating the west pier, investigating ways of bring more yachts in, continuing the facelift for the centre, generating more employment and getting our MSPs to realise businesses in the town need assistance with rate relief.
“MSP Aileen McLeod said the Scottish government recognised the Stranraer Watefront as a national project.
“We are delighted to hear that and want the £8 million reinstated as that was the original potential funding that the Waterfront could have drawn down.
“We have got to work out a business plan to make Stranraer ‘a music town’. Youth had a voice on Monday and we could provide them with proper facilities for a small amount of money.
“With 2.4 million we can fit a lot of projects in and people can now see we are serious. The response we have received is tremendous and we need more.”
SNP Councillor Iain Dick was more circumspect. He said: ”The purpose of this meeting completely missed the whole point of the issue.
“The motion which Councillor Scobie and I proposed and seconded at full council the week before last specifically agreed to allocate from the £2.4million transport interchange funding to the Stranraer Waterfront Project to deliver the construction of a second breakwater to allow the expansion of the marina and associated infrastructure to deliver Stranraer as a marine leisure destination.
“I was astonished that the purpose of this meeting appeared to be finding a way to spend £2.4million on projects in no way associated with the purpose of the funding.
“Councillors Forster and Scobie were aware that Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, who is heading up Stranraer Task Force, had sanctioned the use of the funds for transport projects which included marine activity.
“It is completely disingenuous and misleading to suggest the people of Stranraer have some form of lottery win which can be spent on anything.”
Galloway MSP Alex Fergusson added: “The huge turn-out said all that needs to be said about the concern among Stranraer residents about the future of their town.
“A number of very positive ideas were put forward, particularly by the younger people. What is imperative is that the Scottish government, through the much-vaunted task force, and the local council, through its regeneration team, make a better job of letting people know what steps they are taking to help with the regeneration of Stranraer.”
Fellow MSP Aileen McLeod said: “I think it is essential we listen to the views of the people. I appreciated the opportunity on Monday evening to re-state my commitment to working with the people of Stranraer to help deliver investment and improvements for the town.
“The Scottish government task force has been set up to look at ways in which to improve the long-term economic prospects for Stranraer and is very keen to hear from the people of Stranraer with their own thoughts and views about what they would like to see happen.”