The group which hoped to save Forfar’s Lochside leisure centre for the community has backed out of the bid.
Station Park Community Trust told Angus Council it was withdrawing its interest in the empty building on the eve of the authority’s latest debate in the saga surrounding the centre’s future.
The development will now see the centre marketed for lease to decide which of five options will be the one on which the community is finally consulted.
Sale, lease, community asset transfer, demolition and the leaving the 40-year-old building standing all remain on the table.
However, growing frustration around the new turn of events and the continuing delay in determining Lochside’s future sparked a furious exchange between council leader David Fairweather and the Angus businessman who took the council to court to step them knocking the centre down.
Housebuilder Mark Guild accused the authority of neglecting it to the extent that an estimated £50,000 repair bill from a few years’ ago has now rocketed to £200k because water has poured in through the roof.
“Angus Council have achieved victory – not through the Court of Session, but through the back door,” he said.
“The officers of Angus Council want the leisure centre demolished.
“Councillors appear powerless, possibly even bullied, and I’m concerned you will be unable to save the leisure centre.
“The many difficult questions asked by Angus Council of SPCT appeared to create more problems than solutions.”
He has also now offered to knock the building down for £100k – a quote from a bona fide firm he said was well below the £427k set aside by the council.
“If the £437,000 is ring-fenced, we are prepared to fund the £100,000 demolition cost if the remaining £327,000 is used for a facility at Lochside.”
The surprise move trigged early opposition from several elected members who said they would not support general council funds being earmarked to the town in that way.
And it also prompted a furious backlash towards the businessman from council leader David Fairweather.
Arbroath Independent Mr Fairweather said: “Can I just assure Mr Guild that I would never be bullied by officers and I’m quite sure none of the elected members would be either.
“And nor can I say that at any time have any of our officers been bullies.
“How long has this gone on – it’s probably my mitigated nightmare.
“We can put it out in September and in my mind that consultation would be for demolition.”
Planning team support
Council infrastructure director Ian Cochrane said: “I think it’s necessary to respond, but I don’t intend to get into a tit-for-tat.
“They (SPCT) stated they were a young organisation and the size of the project and number of volunteers were the reasons for withdrawing.
“We offered the support of the community planning team to develop their proposals, as we do with other projects.”
Forfar councillor Lynne Devine said: “I’m uneasy about kicking the can down the road again when there’s no sign of another community group coming forward.”
New public toilets at Forfar Loch are being held up by the delay in deciding the centre’s fate and she said the loos project could lose £35,000 of vital funding.
“I hope people will bear in mind that there are other things hinged on this,” she said.