An empty Angus leisure centre still standing after a Court of Session fight has cost taxpayers more than £1,000 a week to maintain since the shutters went up in 2017.
With councillors set to debate a call for a full independent review of the saga surrounding Lochside in Forfar, a Freedom of Information request has revealed the bill for the boarded-up building has now topped a quarter of a million pounds.
The figure does not include the council’s court costs involved in fighting the challenge mounted by two town businessmen against the £450,000 demolition plan for the Forfar Loch building.
Lochside was replaced by new facilities at Forfar community campus and councillors agreed to raze the 45-year-old centre after council officials said it was sinking.
However, town developer Mark Guild and hotelier Donald Stewart branded the decision unlawful and ultimately succeeded in a legal fight in Scotland’s highest court.
The council is now considering its next move, which is likely to involve a full public consultation on the centre’s future.
FOI figures have now revealed more than £56,000 was spent on Lochside in 2019/20 – the bulk of the costs a whopping rates bill of almost £45,000.
Security spending of £2,100, water and energy bills of £6,500 and £1,800 of maintenance added to the tally.
Costs for this year are currently sitting around £3,000, but the authority expects the rates figure for the property to be reduced following a successful appeal.
Meanwhile, top level legal advice which led to councillors stepping back from taking the Lochside battle to the UK Supreme Court will remain confidential.
At a meeting on September 10, councillors agreed not challenge the majority ruling of the three-judge panel in the Inner House, a decision which overturned an earlier finding in favour of the authority over the handling of Lochside’s planned demolition.
Administration leader David Fairweather said at that time: “If we were to appeal this, given the council’s adherence to the principle of obtaining best value for the public purse, the financial risk of losing would be too great.”
An FOI request for the minute of the September meeting has now been rejected.
“Having considered the release of this report it has been concluded that it is exempt from release under section 36(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 as it constitutes internal communication in the form of privileged legal advice in respect of which a claim to confidentiality of communications could be maintained,” said the council.
“The courts have long recognised the strong public interest in maintaining the right to confidentiality between legal adviser and client on administration of justice grounds.
“In addition, there is a strong public interest that public authorities can give and receive legal advice in confidence while discharging their functions as effectively as possible,” said the council.”
Forfar councillor Braden Davy has lodged a motion for a special full meeting of the council on Monday, demanding an independent review into the saga and seeking action on the consultation around its future.