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Council leader pledges to SAVE Perth ice rink and pool after local backlash

It follows a furious public reaction to a plan to axe Perth Leisure Pool, Dewars ice rink and Bell's Sports Centre.

Leader of Perth and Kinross Council Grant Laing.
Perth and Kinross Council leader Grant Laing. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

The leader of Perth and Kinross Council says he will seek cross-party support to ensure the city holds onto its ice rink and leisure pool.

It follows a furious backlash to a council report setting out plans to close the Dewars Centre ice rink, along with Perth Leisure Pool and Bell’s Sports Centre.

Council bosses want to axe all three loss-making venues and press ahead with a new single centre.

But a recommendation that they exclude the ice rink, leisure swimming and indoor bowling from the mix has sparked outrage in the community.

Pressure has piled on the council all week since The Courier revealed the plan on Monday.

Exteriors of Bell's Sports Centre, Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool.
The three Perth sports centres could be relocated on a single site WITHOUT an ice rink, leisure pool or indoor bowling.

Critics included Perth-born Olympic gold medallist Eve Muirhead, who said it would trash the city’s reputation as “the home of curling”.

And a petition to save the leisure pool has attracted hundreds of signatures.

Now Perth and Kinross Council leader Grant Laing has moved to calm fears ahead of a meeting to decide the centres’ fate on Monday.

Eve Muirhead on the curling rink
Eve Muirhead hit out at the plan to strip Perth of its ice rink. Image: Kris Miller/DC Thomson.

He issued a statement on Friday morning saying: “On Monday I will be seeking support from colleagues across the chamber to agree to consolidate Perth’s three current leisure venues onto one site to deliver the PH20 project in the next five years.

“PH20 will provide leisure swimming in a modern flexible pool and maintain a teaching pool for lessons and training.

“However, I will also be seeking the support of colleagues to retain an ice provision within the new PH20 as I and my SNP administration know the importance of curling to our communities and cultural heritage.”

No place for ice rink or leisure swimming in Perth sports centres plan

The closure recommendations are contained in a report by Perth and Kinross Council’s head of culture and communities services Fiona Robertson.

She says replacing the three ageing centres with one single venue, possibly at the site of the existing Perth Leisure Pool and Dewars Centre on Glover Street, would save the council millions of pounds.

Perth Leisure Pool exterior with flumes.
Perth Leisure Pool is one of the three sports centres slated for closure. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Her report suggests resurrecting the PH2O project, which was shelved last year amid spiralling costs.

Its reduced offering would feature:

• A 25m, 8 lane traditional swimming pool including moveable floor.
• Teaching pool
• Fitness gym
• Studios (group, multi-purpose space)
• Sports hall
• Family play activity

She also suggests “leisure water, ice and indoor bowling are removed from the current approved accommodation schedule for PH20, helping to address affordability and longer-term financial sustainability risks”.

Council cannot go it alone on Perth sports centres

Mr Laing says his administration recognises that the future of Perth’s leisure venues matters hugely to communities.

And he says he is hopeful of reaching consensus on Monday.

But he is warning the council cannot go it alone.

Perth and Kinross Council logo on sign outside council HQ
Mr Laing says councillors of all parties must work together. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

“To be able to achieve this we will need the collective effort from local and national partners and the wider sporting community,” he said.

“The council cannot do all this alone and it is important that national bodies such as Scottish Curling and Sport Scotland step up to help secure these facilities for the future both recruiting new players and also financially.”

Mr Laing says the ageing Dewars Centre, Bell’s Sports Centre and Perth Leisure Pool need around £3M spent on basic maintenance, and a further £12M to try to improve their energy efficiency.

“They put out huge levels of carbon emissions into the environment,” he added.

“Their combined energy bill is nearly £1M a year on top of which they need £1.6M from the Council every year to cover their losses.

“These are hard facts which have been in danger of being drowned out in this debate.”

Plan would have faced ‘certain defeat’

The council’s Liberal Democrat group leader Pete Barrett said he welcomed Mr Laing’s efforts to build a consensus on curling.

But others said the ruling SNP group had been forced into an “embarrassing U-turn”.

Leader of the Scottish Conservative group, councillor John Duff, said “The proposal to exclude an ice rink from the council’s future leisure facilities has caused considerable outrage among curlers and a large number of people across Perth and Kinross and indeed, Scotland.

“Pressure from curlers and opposition groups have forced the SNP into a highly embarrassing U-turn over the future of curling at Perth.

“The Scottish Conservatives recognise the importance of curling as a national sport and were prepared to amend the proposals on Monday.

“The leader’s volte-face statement comes in the face of certain defeat on Monday at the council meeting had it gone to the vote.”