Mar 9 2012 by Stuart Wilson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
IT’S the row which could divide a town.
And all because of a missing steeple.
The absent stonework, which used to sit on top of Freemen’s Hall in Prestwick, has been gone for more than a year.
Safety concerns meant the historic structure had to be hauled down in early 2011.
Now it could be going back up – but at a huge cost.
And the responsibility to make that call lies squarely on the shoulders of the public.
So say South Ayrshire Council, who have launched a consultation on the steeple’s replacement.
But cynics claim the exercise has given Prestwick residents little choice.
For should they want the steeple replaced, it will empty the town’s Common Good Fund – leaving no cash reserves for anything else.
And critics have hit out at the game of council hard-ball, insisting money should be found from elsewhere to fund the return of the steeple.
Prestwick councillor, Helen Moonie, said: “I anticipate that the people of Prestwick will want this steeple restored to its former glory.
“If that’s the case, we’ll have to look at why there is no business plan in place for the Common Good Fund.
“We are being told that the cost of a new steeple will leave absolutely nothing in the fund – so that is hardly a viable option.
“So it must be asked how this consultation is giving anyone a realistic choice in the matter.”
Ironically, the council’s four week consultation presents six options which range from a £345,000 rebuild – right down to a £50,000 flat roof.
But their proposal states that only £345,000 exists within the Common Good Fund.
And the council’s resource spokesman, Councillor Robin Reid, warns: “Clearly some options will have a greater impact on the Prestwick Common Good Fund than others and a reduction in the fund will reduce the investment we can make in other Prestwick common good assets, such as the seafront area, including grass cutting, seasonal planting and storm damage repairs.”
Those words have left many fearing that their famous old steeple will never return.
But Hugh Hunter, Conservative councillor for Prestwick, insisted: “It is now down to the people of Prestwick and how they want their Common Good money spent.
“It is very welcome that a range of options are now available for local residents to consider, including the complete re-build of the steeple.
“I would certainly encourage as many local people as possible to take part in this consultation on the future of one of Prestwick's most iconic buildings and I look forward to learning their views.”
To take part in the consultation, which ends on March 31, visit www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/freemanshall