Perth and Kinross councillors have voted to include an ice rink and family friendly leisure swimming as part of its revised PH20 project.
On Monday, January 22 councillors met to consider radical recommendations to replace Perth’s three main leisure facilities – Bell’s Sports Centre, Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool with one single facility.
The recommended proposals published last week – which suggested a leisure pool, ice rink and indoor bowling no longer be included – were met with widespread opposition.
The recommendation was for the new replacement PH2O facility to include: a 25m eight-lane traditional swimming pool with moveable floor, a teaching pool, fitness gym, studios, sports hall and family play activity prompting outrage at the removal of an ice rink and leisure pool.
Curlers from around the world – including Olympic gold medallists Eve Muirhead and Mili Smith – backed a campaign to keep the “Roaring Game” in Perth while a petition to protect leisure swimming in Perth had attracted over 1,700 signatures before the meeting started.
Following the public outcry, SNP council leader Grant Laing moved to progress revised plans for the merger facility to now include an ice rink and leisure swimming.
He tabled a motion – seconded by SNP councillor Eric Drysdale – which said the findings of the report did “not provide sufficient evidence to support the removal of ice from the mix of activities available at PH20”.
The SNP motion – tabled before councillors on Monday – requested “further work” be “undertaken on curling usage, market trends, and affordability factors as well as “consideration of growth opportunities for curling”. The revised SNP motion also requested “options for the sustainable provision of ice at PH20 being included within the transition plan”.
A request was also made that “Live Active Leisure maintains family-friendly leisure swimming as a core service requirement” and for the “design of a new swimming pool for Perth – as part of the rescoped PH2O project – reflects this requirement and will allow a family-friendly leisure swim offering alongside fitness and lesson swims”.
However both the Conservative and Labour groups tabled two separate amendments calling for more. Labour wanted the motion to include a “costed option for a separate family friendly leisure pool area to complement the swimming pool facilities in a revised PH2O proposal”. The Conservatives wanted it to include this and for a user-reference group to be established and a costed option “which would allow Perth to host curling competitions and events up to an including national and international level”.
Bailie Claire McLaren expressed her support for the motion – a consensus taken by the rest of the Liberal Democrat group she is part of.
The Strathtay councillor said: “From today’s deputations there are potential opportunities for a visionary ice and family friendly swimming offering within the proposed PH20 and therefore I am now delighted that this combination will be considered in greater detail.”
Former world and European champion and Olympian curler Peter Loudon made a deputation on behalf of the local curling community to councillors.
Addressing the chamber as vice-chairman of Perth Curling 1988 and chairman of Perth Masters Bonspiel, he said: “No other single facility in the world can claim to have done as much as Dewars has done over the years.”
He told councillors “25% of all competitive junior curlers in this country come from Perth” and said levels were up on figures quoted in the report.
The champion curler said: “We are 40% up on the figures quoted in the report. This is based on the current season. The numbers on the report come from the 22/23 season.”
He was joined by Scottish Curling’s chief executive Vincent Bryson who told councillors: “Obviously Dewars is iconic as a venue but it’s Perth the city that’s probably more iconic.”
World Curling itself is based in Perth and councillors have been deluged with emails since details about the plans going before councillors were made public.
Conservative councillor Angus Forbes said: “In all my time as a councillor I have had more letters about curling [in the past week] than I have had about any other issue.”
Local resident and leisure pool user Stuart Eadington and Perth City Swim Club president Eve Thomson made a powerful deputation to preserve leisure swimming in Perth.
Ms Thomson said: “Training hours are already woefully less than what other training facilities in Scotland have.”
She told councillors local swimmers were having to travel to other pools including Stirling University for training sessions and described swimming as not just a sport but a “life skill”.
Ms Thomson described the regular queues for the leisure pool at weekends – particularly in the winter and on rainy days – and added: “As a member of the public I would be upset to see the loss of flumes, wild water and the fun element of the sport. It creates such a nice atmosphere for the children. If there’s no leisure water access, access to water becomes an issue for us.”
She added: “Children shouldn’t have to go abroad to have their first shot on a water slide.
“Having access to a training pool is my number one priority – but if there is no leisure water, access to the training pool is reduced.”
Leisure pool user and local resident Stuart said: “Perth Leisure Pool is the single most used feature in Perth.
“Many users of the pool are external to Perth.”
He described it as a “unique tourist attraction” and said Perth needed “more amenities and attractions” to attract families to move to Perth and Kinross.
After a lengthy afternoon of debate, councillors voted to approve the SNP motion by 23 votes to 15. The motion was supported by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and three Independent councillors including Provost Xander McDade.
The Conservatives, Labour and Independent councillor Colin Stewart supported the Conservative amendment which was put forward as the substantive amendment and outvoted by the SNP motion.
The fully costed plan for PH2O will be brought before councillors in August 2024.
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