Scottish Borders Council

Agenda item



2.1       Petitions Procedure

            There had been circulated copies of an extract from the Audit and Scrutiny Committee Petitions procedure and the Chairman asked for this to be noted.  The Chairman welcomed to the meeting lead petitioner Mr Malcolm Campbell and also Alison Campbell. 


2.2       Petition – Removal of Scottish Flags from Henderson Park, Coldstream

            There had been circulated copies of a petition entitled “Stop Scottish Borders Council removing Scottish Flags from Henderson Park, Coldstream”, which had received the required 10 signatories.  There had also been circulated a petition with over 3,000 signatures, although not all those signing were from the Scottish Borders.  These petitions were in response to the Council’s decision to have the flags removed from Henderson Park, Coldstream.  There had also been circulated copies of a briefing note by the Service Director Assets and Infrastructure in response to the petition. It was stated within the petition that “Scottish flags had been put in by an individual in Coldstream to cheer us all up during the Covid outbreak when we should have been celebrating out Civic Week but could not.  As Coldstream was the ’first true Border toon’ it was entirely appropriate that Scottish flags be flown proudly in Henderson Park and tourists and residents have been pleased to enjoy these flags over the years.” 


2.3     The Chairman invited the petitioner to present the petition via Microsoft Teams.  Mr Campbell introduced himself and explained that he wanted the Committee to understand how important these flags were to the community.  The flags had first been put up in Henderson Park in 2014 following a request from Scottish Borders Council to the Community Council to decorate the park to mark the Commonwealth Games being held in Scotland and the baton being carried through the town by Olympic athletes.   Mr David Shepherd had been asked to create a display, as he had experience in creating displays which complied with Health and Safety legislation, and to make the town more attractive.  The flags had been erected in Henderson Park every year since to mark the town’s Annual Civic Week (first full week in August) and remained up until after the anniversary of Flodden Day on 9th September.  On 7 September 2020, Mr Shepherd was advised that a complaint had been received about a saltire flag attached to Council property and that the flags should be removed with immediate effect.  Despite requests, no reason was given at the time although there had been a series of e-mail exchanges to the nature of the complaint and the flags were removed on 7 September 2020 (and therefore not flying on Flodden Day for the first time since 2014).  Scottish Borders Council had since gone on record in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that there was no complaint, merely an enquiry and that the ‘flags were erected/attached to Council Property with no prior permission’.  The FOI response continued: “whilst these may have been erected in this location in previous years to mark Coldstream Civic Week, this year they had remained in place for over a month…..This decision was taken by Officers and was solely related to these items being on Council property and was in no way related to the type of flag flown”.


2.4       Mr Campbell went on to explain that the Tourist Information Service was moved out of the town and Scottish Borders Council was at pains to reassure the town that Coldstream would be promoted strongly as a Gateway centre but none of that had happened.  Coldstream had good community spirit and many events had been held over the years, and flags were part of that.  It was important to residents but also a gateway to Scotland.  Visitors would have their photographs taken on the bridge and also of the flags.  Henderson Park was a stunning view point and the flags helped brighten it up.  Mr Campbell expressed sadness that Scotland’s ‘first true Border toon’ had very little to attract the kind of tourists who were happily having their photos taken next to the flags even as they were being removed.  From online research, it was clear that the Council had a protocol for ‘Flying of flags from Council buildings’ which (from the Equality Impact Assessment on line) appeared to have been last updated in April 2016.  The document suggested that it was reviewed every two years so perhaps a review now might allow for arrangements in terms of flags being flown at Henderson Park between Civic Week and Flodden Day to be formalised.  The decision making on flag flying appeared to be reserved to the Convener per the protocol itself and information on his involvement in the complaint/enquiry, if any had been requested.   Mr Campbell highlighted that the Equality Impact Assessment prepared re the Flag Protocol talked about ‘the many benefits that help Scottish Borders Council contribute well to its obligations under the Equality Act. Examples include:-


  • Ensures Scottish Borders Council demonstrates dignity and respect of the tradition of flag flying within the United Kingdom
  • Encourages Flag Flying which allowed Scottish Borders Council to promote positive messages including pride, inclusiveness, respect and celebration.


2.5       In conclusion, Mr Campbell requested to know why this year the people of Coldstream had not been allowed to have a flag flying on the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden in 1513.  Why a complaint was suddenly not a complaint? And, whether the Council would like to work with the community to formalise what it had previously accepted as the norm (and in actual fact itself commissioned in 2014).  The Chairman thanked Mr Campbell for his presentation, confirmed that the meeting discussion would focus on how the Council could work with the Coldstream community to formalise arrangements for flag flying, and invited questions from members of the Committee.  It was pointed out that due to Covid restrictions, Coldstream did not currently have a Community Council at the moment, and without that leadership, the protocol on the flying of flags and how to seek permission from the Council was not well known.  In response to a question about the flying of the Flag of St George, Mr Campbell advised that the Saltires were being flown in Coldstream as it was a gateway town to Scotland and he was quite content for the Flag of St George to be flown on the English side of the bridge.  Mr Campbell also suggested that any procedure for applying for permission for flag flying should be clear and easy to use.  In response to a question about the online petition, Ms Alison Campbell commented that this was an American App and therefore open worldwide for signatures.  It had attracted 375 signatures from the Borders, with a further 3019 from across the world.  It was noted that the flags flown at the A1 and the Carter Bar came under the jurisdiction of Transport Scotland as these were on Trunk routes.


2.6       In attendance to present the Council’s response to the petition, were the Mr John Curry, Service Director Assets & Infrastructure; Mr Jason Hedley, Chief Officer Roads; and the Parks & Environment Manager, Mr Craig Blackie.  The Briefing paper by the Service Director Assets and Infrastructure, which had been circulated prior to the meeting, summarised the content and context of the petition received by the Council for the Audit and Scrutiny Committee.  A further document entitled ‘Flag Gate’ was also submitted with the petition and this was attached to the Briefing paper as Appendix 1.  Mr Hedley started first of all by offering a wholehearted apology to the petitioners and ‘Presenting Coldstream’, advising that it was never the intention to disrespect the flag or the people of Coldstream.  He then went on to present the Briefing paper.  In September 2020 Scottish Borders Council received an enquiry about flags flying at Henderson Park, Coldstream.  Following a review, officers from the Parks and Environment team found that the flags had been installed by Presenting Coldstream but were unable to establish that the correct permissions had been obtained from the Council to fly the flags.  Subsequently officers contacted Presenting Coldstream and requested that the flags be removed, which was carried out in a timely manner.  The “Flag gate” document introduced additional background information on the flying of flags at Henderson Park, dating back to 2014 and the celebrations associated with the Commonwealth Games of that year.  It set out that since that date the flags had been erected to coincide with Civic week (first full week of August) and they stayed in place until Flodden day 9th September.  The report detailed the Flag Flying Protocol contained in the document “The Flying of Flags from Council buildings And Arrangements for Books of Condolence”, appendix 2 to the paper. This set out prescribed locations/procedures for flag flying, and the due process for discretionary decision making regarding flying of flags out-with these prescribed locations/procedures.    Mr Hedley went onto explain that the matter had never been a complaint, but an enquiry for a service, and as such Officers should have advised the Coldstream Community what was required to rectify the situation.  This had been an oversight by officers and should not have happened, and Mr Hedley apologised for this.  The Service Director Assets and Infrastructure added that the Council was committed to working with communities on a range of matters and particularly, making access to services easier.  The Chairman thanked officers for their forthright apology and clarification about the complaint. 


2.7       Councillor Robson requested that any amended protocol for flag flying should also include local Members and other relevant local organisations, and it had been unfortunate that the Community Council election had coincided with lockdown.  Councillor Harry Scott also commented that the SBC local Elected Members would have been available to assist at the time.  The Chairman advised that there seemed to have been a whole series of misunderstandings.  Mr Campbell questioned why the Council had made contact by e-mail and not telephone and the Service Director acknowledged that a phone call would have been more appropriate.  Mr Curry further advised that any review of the Flag Flying Protocol would also need to take account of flag flying out-with specific circumstances and not only on buildings.  Members of the Committee discussed how best to take matters forward in terms of flying flags at Civic Week, Flodden Day, and beyond.  Councillor Anderson, seconded by Councillor Greenwell, moved that the matter be referred to the Service Director Assets & Infrastructure to develop a straight forward protocol – in consultation with Presenting Coldstream, for flying flags at Henderson Park, Coldstream over an agreed period of time each year.  Councillor Fullarton moved as an amendment that no further action was required but, as there was no seconder, the amendment fell.  The Chairman thanked Mr Campbell and Ms Campbell for taking the time to organise the petition and for their helpful input at the meeting.



AGREED to refer the matter to the Service Director Assets & Infrastructure to develop a straightforward protocol - in consultation with Presenting Coldstream - in respect of flying flags in Henderson Park, Coldstream over an agreed period of time each year.  



Supporting documents:



Scottish Borders Council

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