Sport stars’ anger at leisure centres closure plan

Slashing the number of public leisure centres will stifle future Olympic talent, sports stars warned today.

Tuesday, 28th October 2014, 11:45 am
Lynsey Sharp has condemned the plans. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Almost a third of venues face the axe amid plans to cut funding across the Capital by £2 million.

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

But Commonwealth Games medallist Lynsey Sharp and sprinting legend Allan Wells have joined a growing chorus of high-profile names demanding a rethink amid claims £2m is a small price to pay to protect the future of sport.

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The stars said that a shortage of facilities could deter the next generation from taking up sport, leading to fewer potential champions coming through the ranks.

With reduced access, they said that there would also be less incentive to take up exercise, leading to health problems.

Describing the news as a “massive blow” for sport in the Capital, Sharp warned that the council was in danger of failing athletes of the future.

She said: “It doesn’t surprise me because I feel it’s how Edinburgh has been for a while in terms of sport and leisure.

“I think it’s a shame because the facilities that we are talking about are perhaps less used by elite athletes and more by the general public, and are at the centre of the community.

“For many they are also the first point of contact with sport. At a grassroots level people look for facilities locally.

“Removing them is going to hit people who are perhaps looking for a sport and may go on to represent our country.

“We were already falling miles behind Glasgow even before the Commonwealth Games and this is another massive blow.

“The word legacy is thrown about but I don’t think there is much consideration of legacy being shown by Edinburgh council.”

The 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 are thought to be safe.

But the future of other public sports centre, with the possible exception of Warrender Swim Centre, is far from certain.

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

Edinburgh-born Wells, a former British sprinter who became the 100m champion at the 1980 Olympics, suggested that funding should be sought elsewhere, perhaps from the government, big-name sponsors such as Adidas or the private sector.

He said: “Obviously you have to put your house in order, but this is a negative move.

“I understand the predicament of the council and it might be that the government has to step in.

“We have got to give everyone an opportunity to get involved in sport and keep healthy, and I think there are areas the money could be found to keep these places open, at an absolute minimum. Health in Scotland is very important and we have been criticised about our health record, and anything that is to the detriment of our sporting facilities can only make that situation worse.

“There has to be some sort of funding there to support youngsters coming through, being healthy and giving them the opportunity to make something of themselves. We might get another Olympic champion out of these places.”

He added: “I think it’s important to use every means possible to support these facilities. This is £2m and pales into insignificance when you think about the trams.”

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

To balance its books, the Capital must save £67m over the next three years – a challenge which casts doubt over a swathe of council services including markings on public football pitches.

Scott Hastings, former Scotland rugby international, also urged the city to reconsider its proposals and safeguard sports facilities. He said: “All areas of local councils have budgets which are under pressure. But to sacrifice sports centres which provide opportunity within the wider reach of the community in terms of preventing health problems is no way to approach things.

“I would encourage them to reconsider this. It is important to recognise that not enough is done, and preventative health spend is so important.”

Edinburgh-based George Kerr CBE is one of about six judo 10th Dans in the world and is president of the British Judo Federation.

He runs a private gym but said that he believed curtailing spending on public sport facilities was “wrong”.

He said: “I think there are other ways they could cut the deficit. The first thing they [councils] seem to do is cut either leisure or sport because they feel it’s not really important, and I feel that is unfair.”

John Comiskey, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, claimed that 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 it [the funding cut] to be, it is completely ­unprecedented and requires an equally unprecedented level of response.”

Traffic bill for remembrance events included ‘in error’

PLANS to bill Remembrance Sunday events for the cost of traffic enforcement have been scrapped after the Evening News raised concern among charity workers.

Legion Scotland was set to be hit with an annual fee of £831 for removing cars and issuing fines to motorists who park in restricted areas. It was among a series of levies aimed at major gatherings in a bid to raise nearly £100,000 for city coffers.

But transport chiefs today said Remembrance Sunday ceremonies – held on the second Sunday in November to mark the sacrifice of British and Commonwealth soldiers in the two world wars and other conflicts – were included “in error”.

Critics have slammed suggestions of any new charges as a “disgrace”.

Tom Gilzean, 94, who has raised tens of thousands of pounds for soldiers’ and veteran charities in Edinburgh, said: “It’s the principle – these men lost their lives defending their country. I think this is all wrong. Anything like that is out of the question. I think the whole country would be in an uproar if they do this.”

Legion Scotland is not currently charged for the cost of vehicle diversions, barriers and other traffic management measures during Remembrance Sunday.

Chief executive Kevin Gray said: “Legion Scotland hopes that local authorities will not charge traffic fees for the remembrance parade, as the people coming to take part are there to honour the memory of those who have sacrificed their life in service of their country.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Remembrance events have been included in error. The council does not charge traffic management fees for veteran events or other civic or royal events, and that will continue to be the case.”