Hundreds attend demo to protest closure of recreation centre

Locals braved cold weather to call on Falkirk Council to reverse its decision.

Hundreds attend demo to protest Falkirk Council’s closure of Bo’ness Recreation Centre Martin Brown

Hundreds of people braved the cold on Saturday morning to call on Falkirk Council to reverse its decision to close Bo’ness Recreation Centre for good.

Save the Bo’ness Reccy campaign group had asked people to go along to ‘show we care’ – and from 9 am, a crowd of nearly 1000 people gathered in front of the building with placards and banners to do just that.

Robert Stuart, one of the organisers, said: “We met our objective – we asked people to come and they came out in big, big numbers.

“Will it make a difference? That’s a completely different matter.”

Despite a chilly March wind, a long queue formed to sign a petition against the closure, which is due to happen in May.

Among the many groups were members of Bo’ness Active Forth, who say the service has been invaluable in helping them recuperate and then stay fit after illness or injury.

Also making their voices heard were Bo’ness Rugby Club, whose 200 members rely on the centre’s facilities and who now face having to relocate to Grangemouth.

They were joined by members of the Sub Aqua Club, which has been based at the centre for 46 years but also now faces an uncertain future.

Several councillors attended including local members Ann Ritchie (Independent) and David Aitchison (Labour) who are actively campaigning to save the centre.

Also present were Labour councillors Anne Hannah and Euan Stainbank and Independent councillor Brian McCabe.

Green MSP Gillian McKay also spent time talking to those attending to find out their concerns.

Many of those who came to show support are not members of any groups, but they still believe the centre is a loss the town can’t afford.

Another of the organisers, Andrew Gourlay, says he has used the centre since he was a boy.

Before it was threatened with closure, he says, he had never so much as written a letter to a councillor.

Now he’s written to them all, along with several MSPs, and is encouraging others to do the same, saying it is “unacceptable” for a town the size of Bo’ness to be without sporting and recreational facilities.

Mr Gourlay said: “This building and what it represents are fundamental to our community.

“We should be doing more to encourage kids into sport – more to encourage adults into clubs. We’ve got a mental health crisis – we’ve got a loneliness minister, for goodness sake!”

Many are angry at a long-term lack of maintenance that led to the final decision to close the doors for good in May. 

Falkirk Council members heard that the cost of repairs to the centre would be around £4m as the 48-year-old building had reached “end of life”.

And with the council facing a £60m budget gap, a vote to close the centre was narrowly won.

But the campaigners have lots of questions about the reports that found the building to be in such a poor state of repair that closure was the only option.

Just last week, the centre’s swimming pool was closed abruptly, said to be in a dangerous condition with water seeping into the concrete.

It was a devastating blow for Mr Gourlay, who had just a week earlier started making enquiries about the best way to begin a community asset transfer.

Following the meeting to set Falkirk Council’s budget, the council now says it will invest £3m into making Bo’ness Academy more accessible to the community.

But with no timescales and no details about what exactly will be on offer, campaigners say this isn’t good enough.

They now hope that a formal complaint to the council and an appeal to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman will find in their favour.

Despite the odds stacked so heavily against them, they say they are determined to make their voices heard and to “keep fighting”.

A spokesperson for Falkirk Council said: “External Structural Engineers were appointed to consider the concrete pool wall and observed it is subject to significant deterioration due to corrosion. Its structural integrity could not be confirmed. They further comment that water seepage through the concrete has increased and the condition of the concrete has further deteriorated since previous inspections.

“Their conclusion was a clear recommendation that the pool water be immediately drained down to remove load from the wall and that in the interim period access within the plant room corridor is prohibited. Given these findings at the first opportunity in the interests of health and safety, the pool was closed.

“It is unfortunate the pool has had to close but does reflect the general concerns around the condition of the property. Going forward the Council proposes a new major investment at Bo’ness Academy which will provide quality and accessible sports, leisure and community facilities that will mitigate some of the loss of the Rec – and in some cases – enhance what is currently provided.”

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