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Did Perth leisure bosses ignore consultation advice before closure of Bell’s Sports Centre?

Live Active Leisure says a public consultation on the controversial closure "would not have been meaningful".

Bell's Sports Centre. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson
Bell's Sports Centre. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Perth leisure chiefs may have ignored a recommendation from their own independent advisors to hold a public consultation before shutting Bell’s Sports Centre.

Bosses at Live Active Leisure (LAL) were advised in January by Integratis Consulting to hold community consultations if they were choosing the option to close the North Inch complex.

However no such sessions took place before the decision was taken to shut the facility, much to the anger of the general public and sports clubs.

Perth Phoenix Basketball club were outraged at the closure of Bell’s. Image: Stuart Cowper

LAL argues that Integratis did not mean they should consult with the community ahead of the board’s decision to close the venue.

The Courier can reveal that LAL also failed to consult with groups at risk of discrimination, despite their own equalities report finding the impacts of the closure on such groups would almost be entirely negative.

The organisation – which runs the area’s leisure facilities on behalf of Perth and Kinross Council – admits they refused to consult the public, saying it “would not have been meaningful”.

‘Significant cost to community use’

In the January report, Integratis Consulting recommended the full closure of Bell’s Sports Centre as the most financially beneficial option for LAL.

However the firm warned that choosing the recommendation would have “the largest negative impact” of the six options available and would come “at a significant cost to community use”.

As part of the recommendation, Integratis advised having a community consultation.

The report stated: “The recommended strategy of full closure and relocation of services presents a financially and strategically prudent path forward.

“It requires careful implementation, strategic collaboration, community consultation, and alignment with broader council objectives to ensure the continued provision of valuable leisure and fitness services to the Perth and Kinross community.”

Bell’s Sports Centre. Image: Steve MacDougall/ DC Thomson

When asked by The Courier why no such consultation took place, LAL said it only had to consult groups after the decision was made.

A spokesperson for LAL said: “Whilst the external consultant has used the word consultation, this isn’t in the context of consultation and engagement on any decision, but rather on the consequences of the decision.

“We considered that consultation ahead of any decision was not appropriate and would not have been meaningful ahead of the board’s decision because there was little likelihood that the results of any consultation would impact the decision.”

The organisation said they did engage with clubs ahead of the closure being finalised by councillors in May, by writing to club’s on March 25 advising them that the venue would shut and, in some cases, outlining other options.

The LAL board decided to close Bell’s amid flood damage to the sports centre and after it was included in ongoing plans to consolidate Perth’s leisure facilities into one complex.

‘Legitimate consultation not possible’

As part of LAL’s decision to shut Bell’s, the organisation was aware that elderly and disability groups would be negatively affected by the closure.

In their own Equality and Fairness Impact Assessment (EIFA), LAL admit carrying out zero consultation with any group at risk of discrimination.

Bowlers Ryan Tamburrino, Frazer Hutchison, Graeme Panton and Jamie-Lee Lutton from Perthshire play for Scotland in disability championships. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

In the section of the report set aside for outlining the findings of said consultation, LAL wrote: “None.”

They added: “This proposal forms part of a series of proposals under consideration by the company to achieve the financial saving necessary for the company to continue operation within the expected budgets for 24/25 and beyond.

“As a result, legitimate consultation is not considered possible in this instance as it would have little or no opportunity to influence the outcome.”

Under the Equality Act 2010, a public body or organisation is required to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between equality groups.

EIFAs are considered critical to ensure that decision makers are fully informed during the decision-making process.

Very few positives to find

LAL was aware the closure of Bell’s would have a negative impact on people over the age of 65 as they planned on moving the gym provision from the North Inch facility to the Dewars Centre where it would replace the only indoor bowling carpet in the city.

The Dewars carpet is also used by a team of Scotland international bowlers with disabilities who have been left with nowhere to practice.

In their equality assessment for over 65s, LAL wrote: “A significant percentage of the existing users who bowl at Dewars fall into this category.

“There would be no provision to continue this activity.”

As a positive, they said there was good bus routes to the new gym at Dewars.

Perth Indoor Bowling club members. Image: Kenny Smith/DC Thomson

The assessment also noted that the closure of Bell’s would result in a “significant reduction” in the publicly available sports hall provision during the school day.

It was found that this would impact on specific classes for pre-school children as well as people with both physical and learning disabilities.

LAL was unable to state a single positive impact the closure would have those protected groups.

The assessment also found the reduction in sports hall availability would have a negative impact on socio-economic fairness.

It stated: “The reduction in publicly available sports halls is likely to lead to a reduction in casual / ad hoc access to sport and physical activity.

“Those who are not part of a club or group may find it more difficult to find an available space if they wish to play any court sport.”

Again, no positive impacts were found.

The Courier has launched a campaign to Protect Perth Leisure, asking Perth and Kinross Council to build an ambitious facility that caters for all.