Eight sports centres face closure over funding cut

Carrick Knowe golf course is just one of the locations under threat. Picture: Toby Williams

Carrick Knowe golf course is just one of the locations under threat. Picture: Toby Williams

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ALMOST one third of public sports centres are facing the axe amid plans to cut funding for the venues by £2 million.

Council-owned swimming pools, golf clubs and sports centres are under threat as the city moves to slash its annual grant to Edinburgh Leisure from £9.6m to £7.5m over the next three years.

The unprecedented cull could see as many as eight sports facilities close within the Capital.

Flagship venues such as the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Meadowbank and the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA) are likely to avoid the axe, but research by the Evening News suggests no other public sport centre – other than Warrender Swim Centre – can be assured of a future.

Under-threat venues include the leisure centres at Ainslie Park and Gracemount, Carrick Knowe Golf Course, several bowling greens and Dalry Swimming Pool.

Around 100 jobs will be lost from Edinburgh Leisure’s 850-strong workforce if the city presses ahead with its budget plans.

To balance its books, Edinburgh must save £67 million over the next three years – a challenge which casts doubt over a swathe of council services including the marking of white-line boundaries on public football pitches.

Today, John Comiskey, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, claimed it would be impossible for the sports body to meet its savings target without a “fundamental re-shaping” of the ­organisation.

He said: “In the absence of an as yet unidentified silver bullet this will inevitably mean multiple venue closures.

“To absorb a 22 per cent reduction in funding will require a proportionate reduction in our level of services.

“However necessary the council feels [the funding cut] to be, it is completely ­unprecedented and requires an equally unprecedented level of response.”

Sports and leisure projects for vulnerable Edinburgh residents have already been earmarked for closure by company chiefs as part of widespread belt-tightening by public services.

Mr Comiskey said all ­Edinburgh Leisure services are now under review with several cost-cutting scenarios being considered.

But he insisted “no specific venue” has yet been selected for closure,

“Almost all services will ­appear in one or more of those scenarios, but further work is required before any specific recommendations are made,” he said.

Critics have condemned planned cuts to Edinburgh Leisure’s budget, branding the move a “catastrophe” for sport across the Capital.

Mark Richardson, secretary for Kirkliston and South Queensferry FC, which holds training sessions at Kirkliston Leisure Centre, said closures would be a “disaster” for his club.

And he claimed it would be “impossible” to find an alternative venue to house the club.

“It would be a huge loss,” he said. “Where would we go? People would have to go to West Lothian or a private sports centre.”

Mike Wallace, chair of ClubSportEdinburgh, which represents Edinburgh’s sports clubs, said news of the cuts and possible closures had sparked a wave of “nerves and ­apprehension” among ­members.

“Depending on where the closures are this could be absolutely devastating,” he said. “If you take away access to [the sports centres], all the good work that’s going on in schools is lost.

“It’s really important that the council and Edinburgh Leisure support those who are displaced.”

Political leaders said axing city sports centres would come as a bitter blow only months after the Capital helped host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Gavin Brown, Conservative MSP for the Lothians, said it would be a “terrible legacy” if it became tougher for people to access sports venues in ­Edinburgh. Most people I speak to do not feel there are enough venues in Edinburgh – to lose these would have a very negative impact on the wellbeing of the city, remembering that we had a Commonwealth Games venue in one location just a few months ago.”

Edinburgh Leisure was reportedly due to make a £250,000 operating loss in 2013 and saw a £230,000 debt owed to the city by the loss-making EICA written off after a report claimed it was “highly unlikely” to make a profit in the forseeable ­future.

Cllr Chas Booth, sports spokesman for Edinburgh Greens, said: “The closure of Leith Waterworld three years ago was bad enough, but to see community swimming pools and other much-loved sports facilities under threat is nothing short of a sports ­armageddon.

“Edinburgh is already at the bottom of Scotland’s local authority league table for investment in sport and leisure. Without adequate sports ­facilities, Edinburgh’s citizens will be less active, which could lead to additional costs for the health service and the council, so these proposed cuts are extremely short-sighted.

“After a year in which our sister city Glasgow hosted a rightly praised celebration of sport in the Commonwealth Games, it would be a bitter legacy if grassroots sport and activity in the Capital were to be slashed in this way.”

A public consultation on cuts proposed for Edinburgh Leisure and other services managed or funded by the council is under way and will last until December 19.

City leaders stressed no budget decisions would be taken without careful consideration of the impact on users and residents’ feedback.

But they admitted closures would be considered if they were the most “efficient” way of achieving saving targets.

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com