Gala gets late chance of say on sports facilities

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THE controversial report on the future of swimming pools and other sports facilities in the Borders has highlighted the “folly” of scrapping three of the region’s five area committees.

That is the view of Tory councillor Fiona Lackenby, who was chair of the Eildon body which, along with the Tweeddale and Berwickshire committees, was wound up by Scottish Borders Council last year.

The recommendations of the Kit Campbell report, commissioned by SBC for £30,000, are out to public consultation until January 31.

The consultant has cast doubt on of the cost and sustainability of retaining the Selkirk, Jedburgh and Hawick swimming pools and raised questions over the future of the Tweedbank sports pitches. A centralisation of facilities, including the creation of a competition standard pool in Galashiels, is proposed.

The two surviving area committees, Teviot and Liddesdale and Cheviot have already been briefed over the proposals as they affect Hawick and Jedburgh respectively, supplementing public meetings which have strongly opposed pool closures in these towns

But, apart from a similarly resolute gathering in Selkirk, there has been no forum to discuss the implications for the wider Eildon area, which also includes Galashiels, Melrose, Newtown, Lauder and Tweedbank.

That will change on Wednesday, January 19, when Mrs Lackenby will chair a special public meeting in the Volunteer Hall, Galashiels, at 7pm.

She expects all councillors representing the three wards of Selkirkshire, Galashiels and District and Leaderdale and Melrose, who made up the former Eildon Area Committee, to attend and take on board the views of the public before SBC, which pays over £1.5million in annual management fees to trusts to run the facilities, makes any firm decisions.

“The Eildon area is the most densely populated part of the Borders and, as such, the Kit Campbell report has massive implications for its people, many of whom use our sports facilities,” said Mrs Lackenby, a member of SBC’s ruling administration.

“We are already late into the consultation process, but so far most of the councillors representing the Eildon area have had no opportunity to either collectively discuss these most significant proposals or get a handle on the views of the public in the central Borders.

“This, in my view, shows the folly and iniquity of scrapping three of the area committees, while retaining the other two.”

Mrs Lackenby said she had received permission from SBC chief executive David Hume, to “basically reconstitute” the area committee for the purpose of holding next week’s meeting. Mr Hume, director of education Glenn Rodger and Kit Campbell himself will attend.

News of the meeting was welcomed by Selkirk solicitor Iain Burke, a member of the steering group set up last month to fight closure plans in his town and to work with the Border Sport and Leisure Trust (BSLT), which runs most pools and the Tweedbank complex, to boost user numbers.

“The Selkirk group will definitely be represented, because we still need to get the perspective of SBC and, particularly, to get the views of Mr Rodger,” said Mr Burke. “It will be a good opportunity to get his views on the situation.”

However, Mr Burke said he and fellow Selkirk steering group member Brian McFie had already had an informal meeting with Tony Taylor and Ewan Jackson, chairman and chief executive respectively of the BSLT.

“It was a very useful discussion and the trust is committed to maintaining a swimming pool in Selkirk if possible,” Mr Burke told TheSouthern.

“The spectre of the required capital spend [estimated at £600,000] still looms and that is something we view as a priority. The ideal scenario would be a replacement for the existing facility with a more modern centre with leisure facilities and a new pool. We are admittedly some years from that, but it is a worthwhile goal.

“Mr Jackson took on board a number of our points and the idea of increasing visits from 40,000 to 60,000 this year is one we are looking at.

“We are more than happy to work with the BSLT and are encouraged by its positive attitude and its commitment to better communications with users of the centre.”