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Anger over Perth leisure plans revealed as hundreds respond to survey

The Courier held a public consultation as part of our Protect Perth Leisure campaign, now we can share the results from nearly 800 respondents.

Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool.
Dewars Centre and Perth Leisure Pool. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Concerns over plans to merge three Perth leisure facilities into one complex have been made clear as nearly 800 people responded to a survey carried out by The Courier.

The need for ample leisure and lane swimming facilities was paramount among respondents, with many fearing a new venue will fall short of what is required in the city.

The Courier held the consultation as part our Protect Perth Leisure campaign, which is highlighting the need for the Fair City to have an ambitious centre which can cater for all.

Neither the local authority nor Live Active Leisure (LAL) have held any public consultation regarding the plans to merge Perth Leisure Pool, Dewars Centre and Bell’s Sports Centre.

The first set of plans, which did not feature leisure swimming or curling facilities, were rejected by councillors in January.

Our survey concluded before the decision was taken last month to close Bell’s Sports Centre.

An investigation by The Courier revealed that LAL may have ignored independent advice to hold a community consultation before closing the venue and refused to consult with groups at risk of discrimination.

The Courier contacted Perth and Kinross Council to ask why a consultation was not held and we offered to share the results of our own.

A spokesperson said: “The review of leisure assets was carried out by officers, at the request of Council, and looked at how to ensure leisure provision can meet the needs of residents across Perth and Kinross in an affordable and sustainable way.

“While we understand some users will be upset at the loss of some facilities, recommendations to consolidate the three sites in Perth were based on current and predicted usage trends, running costs and capital investment requirements.

“All three buildings operated at a loss in 2022/23 and require significant capital expenditure in coming years.

“Councillors approved proposals to merge the three facilities and requested officers come back with amended, fully-costed proposals for PH20 including ice and leisure swimming in August, when they will then decide whether to proceed with the project.

“Live Active Leisure is currently consulting with sports groups affected by the proposed closure of Bell’s regarding alternative space for their activities and consultation with other groups once plans for PH20 are finalised.”

Leisure swimming a priority for public

Leisure swimming was the most popular activity among the 756 online respondents, with 55% saying they had taken part in the activity in the last six months and 74% believing they would use the facility in the next six.

An investigation carried out by The Courier showed that Perth already has the lowest number of pool hours available for leisure swimming in cities across Tayside, Fife, Stirling and Inverness.

The original plans put forward by Perth and Kinross Council officers did not include leisure water, a move criticised by Perth City Swim Club as it would also negatively impact lane swimming hours.

Lane swimming was the second most popular activity undertaken in our survey results.

Perth Swim Club president Eve Thomson and coach Ann Dickson at Perth Leisure Pool. Image: Stuart Cowper

Curling, which was also axed in the plans put forward in January, was the sixth most popular sport in the consultation, with nearly a quarter of people saying they plan on taking part in the sport in the next six months.

Olympic champion curler Eve Muirhead helped launch The Courier’s campaign to Protect Perth Leisure.

Peter Loudon at Dewars Centre.
Champion curler Peter Loudon at Dewars Centre. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

The curling community in Perth want the local authority to build an ice rink arena capable of holding high level curling and ice sport competitions as part of the new facility.

Known as the home of curling in Scotland, Perth has seen itself losing out on top level tournaments in recent years as other Scottish locations have an arena.

Family friendly facilities needed

The need for family friendly activities in Perth’s leisure offer was also laid bare with more than half the respondents saying they take their children to use the facilities.

People whose use the facilities recreationally are the second most common type of leisure user in Perth.

The vast majority of respondents are concerned about the upcoming plans for a new leisure centre.

A huge 88% of people have misgivings about the project, ranging from fears that there will be fewer facilities on offer – including those catering to older or disabled people – to worries about where the new facility will be located.

Some residents noted that the proposals were likely to be a watered down version of the flagship complex first mooted in 2014.

“A cost cutting exercise where the community wasn’t consulted,” was one complaint.

Another respondent commented: “It needs to at least match what’s on offer at Perth Leisure Pool and ideally have more activities added.”

A third said: “The original plan never materialised, only a smaller version with no (leisure) swimming pool and ice rink has been mooted.”

Eve Muirhead outside Dewars Centre. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

A fourth responded: “If PH20 plans (are) scaled down, this shows little vision for the future and will inevitably incur further significant costs 30 to 40 years down the line.

“Get it right first time.”

Indoor bowlers respond in numbers

One of the most controversial elements to the new facility is the decision to axe indoor bowling.

In the online survey, 14% of respondents said they had played the sport in the last six months.

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

Perth Indoor Bowling club were left outraged when they were told in March their carpet at Dewars Centre was being replaced by a gym due to the flooding at Bell’s Sports Centre.

So far, the sport has not been included in any plans for a new leisure centre, with a fresh proposal set to come forward again in August.

In addition to the 756 online respondents, eight people also completed the survey by post.

Indoor bowling and curling were the main issues highlighted by those leisure users.

One person said: “The loss of indoor bowling is beyond inexplicable.

“Complete disregard for a specific generation who have worked hard and now their social life and hobby has been removed.

“A gym in Dewars isn’t important, not enough fingers to count the number if gyms we currently have in town.”

Age Scotland has already criticised the decision to end the future of indoor bowling in the city without consultation.

Other key findings in survey

Other key findings noted in the survey were that 70% of respondents used the facilities on a weekly basis.

The vast majority of users travelled to the venues by car and come from within a ten mile radius of the facilities.

65% of users said that good parking availability was one of the main benefits of the current facilities and fears over how a combined site would cater for drivers was a concern.

“Where they are positioned right now, albeit not central Perth, is ideal for people to get to,” said one respondent.

“I don’t know where the new building could be placed with enough land around for parking, especially if Bell’s is also going to be included in the building.”

Half of the respondents pay up to £30 a month to use the facilities in Perth while 38% pay between £30 and £75.

The gender demographics of the survey were 58% female and 41% male.