The community must step up to the plate with a plan for the future of Forfar’s controversial Lochside leisure centre building.
That was the firm message to emerge from another marathon discussion by Angus councillors over the 45-year-old country park property as elected members crossed swords again in the continuing saga over the empty eyesore.
But two hours of debate on the hot topic saw a full meeting of the council vote against extending the length of a public consultation the authority must carry out after a Court of Session ruling, following a challenge by two Forfar businessmen over a plan to bulldoze the centre.
The online council meeting heard deputy Angus administration leader Angus Macmillan Douglas’ proposal would add another £12,000 to the six-figure bill already racked up around the building in rates and maintenance since its closure in 2018.
“The only objective as far as I am concerned is to allow longer for people to consider the important issues and thereby bring forward the best possible outcome,” he said.
Fellow administration member and Forfar councillor Braden Davy said: “We are making the same mistakes as last time, rushing this consultation through during a pandemic and over the Christmas period.”
Ruling group colleagues joined opposition members in voting down the plan to extend the consultation, and Arbroath Conservative Derek Wann said parties interested in keeping the centre standing should be in no doubt that the ball was in their court.
“Any consultation responses for a future use will need to be backed up with a viable community asset transfer plan – if people think it will be the council that will do this then that is not likely,” he said.
Mr Wann highlighted the hard work behind the multi-million pound Montrose Playhouse project – the community-led scheme to transform the town’s former swimming pool – as an example of the scale of challenge facing prospective Lochside tenants.
Arguments also continue to rage around whether Forfar common good fund or the council’s general fund will be responsible for picking up the tab after the court decision ruled the centre was a common good asset.
The authority has £450,000 still sitting in its general fund which was earmarked for Lochside’s demolition, but finance chief Ian Lorimer told members he could not give a firm indication at this stage which fund will ultimately foot the bill.
Members also agreed a visual inspection report will form part of the consultation information, but a full independent survey will not be carried out by the council.
They were also told the requirements of the Community Empowerment Act mean groups across Angus will be consulted over the building’s fate, not just those in Forfar.
The agreed consultation plan will now see the wheels set in motion for an initial phase seeking public feedback due to get underway within weeks, with a view to the preferred future option being delivered next spring ahead of a further formal consultation period.