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High hopes for Halls

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By Fiona Reid
Annan and Eskdale
High hopes for Halls

WHAT is the vision for Annan’s Victoria Halls? And what do townsfolk want from the building in the future?

Those are the questions which will be at the heart of a piece of work to finally be undertaken by council officials.

And local leaders are hopeful it will be the start of an overhaul and new lease of life for the halls site.

The project has already been twice delayed by covid and staffing issues, but team leader Melissa McGarey told the latest meeting of the Annan Regeneration Steering Group that they ‘really need to get work underway’ and indicated it will be done over the next few months.

She said: “We are disappointed we are not further ahead with this.

“We do have some ideas about the work we want to do to take it forward and we have arranged for an allocation from the council budget to start building the case for it.

“The starting point is a feasibility study and to map out a profile of local needs and the impact covid had on the local community.”

She said work already done on the Albert Hall has been of great interest and “told us a lot about building community capacity in the town.”

Their initial findings on the Victoria Halls will be shared with the steering group and Ms McGarey asked members to think about the key issues locally that need addressing and what is important

to the Annan to ensure the scheme is ‘transformational’.

She added: “Think about what the building should feel like, what will happen there day to day.”

Finding the right concept will allow investment to be found, said Ms McGarey.

She also addressed local reaction to the £100,000 allocated for the feasibility study, saying: “There were few eyebrows raised, but it’s just an indicative figure.

“Most big transformational community hub projects work out about £45m and the design team, who do the technical work, their fee is about 30 per cent.

“If it costs less, brilliant. But, it kickstarts the process that could bring in many million pounds of external investment into this project potentially.”

Group chairman Sean Marshall stressed they could act as a sounding board for the development but said the lead partner had to be the owners, Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Meanwhile, Annandale South Councillor Henry McClelland asked if it being a common good asset would pose restrictions.

Replying, Ms McGarey said: “It does add complexity to the project and we need to look at the legality and ownership issue, and council policy as well- it’s not simply a question of going away and doing a design for the building.

“I am very clear about the pathway forward and definitely see working with the local community as key to the success. It’s how we bring big investment to this project, whichever project it happens to be.”

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