Major plans to transform Elgin’s town centre have been given a major £18 million funding boost.
The money aims to help the Moray town’s makeover as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up programme.
It comes just weeks after the refurbishment project received an unexpected £20 million from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
And it’s less than a year after the local authority’s previous plea for Levelling Up cash was snubbed, leaving locals bitterly disappointed.
The fresh cash will go towards the Elgin town centre masterplan, a blueprint for redevelopment which was approved in 2021.
As part of the makeover, planning chiefs want to reopen derelict and unused buildings in the heart of the town.
That includes the Grade B listed Elgin Club on Commerce Street, which has been shut for more than 20 years.
It’s hoped the historic building can be transformed into a 14-bedroom high quality hotel for tourists visiting the area.
The derelict former Jailhouse Nightclub, which was only opened for 18 months in the 1990s before a devastating fire, is likely to be repurposed.
It’s hoped a new social space for students will be opened, along with a community arts centre inside a currently vacant property.
Work will be done to improve traffic control measures, new disabled parking will be provided, and town planners want to create more of an outside cafe culture.
Cooper Park is also likely to benefit from a makeover, with a pond being brought back into active use, new seating, and boat and paddle board hire.
The funding is a welcome boost for Scottish Tory chief Douglas Ross, who serves as the area’s local MP.
He was among those unhappy when Elgin was previously unsuccessful in its application for cash.
The Holyrood Conservative leader said: “I am absolutely delighted that this huge amount of funding has been awarded.
“This money will go a long way to helping to regenerate Elgin and the surrounding area.
“It is particularly pleasing that Moray Council’s bid has been successful, given the understandable disappointment when we missed out when previous funding was allocated.”
Moray Council leader Kathleen Robertson said: “This is fantastic news and my thanks go to all the council officials who worked so hard to ensure this bid would get the green light.
“Our council has bold and ambitious plans to regenerate our communities – including Elgin – and it is extremely welcome that has been recognised by the UK Government.”
Jérémie Fernandes, an SNP councillor in the town, welcomed the funding, but criticised wider Tory economic plans.
He said: “The UK Government’s decision to snub Elgin in the first round of applications was the wrong one, and I am glad that Michael Gove has finally corrected it.
“However, this announcement comes on the same day as the UK Treasury reportedly planning to increase whisky duty by 15%, siphoning millions of pounds out of the Moray economy every year.
“It’s classic case of giving with one hand whilst taking with the other.”
The UK Government Levelling Up scheme was first brought forward by Boris Johnson, and aims to regenerate town centres and other community schemes.
In previous funding rounds, areas in the north and north-east such as Shetland and Inverness have benefited from cash.
The programme allows Westminster to bypass Holyrood, sending cash directly to local communities.
However, that has sparked political rows with SNP ministers regularly claiming they should be the ones deciding where the cash should go.