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MARTEL MAXWELL: My trip to Broughty Ferry showed Dundee City Council must do better

"We’re not paying any less council tax, so why are public places and landmarks closing?"

Martel Maxwell and her sons enjoyed a day out in Broughty Ferry - but not the one they had planned. Image: Martel Maxwell
Martel Maxwell and her sons enjoyed a day out in Broughty Ferry - but not the one they had planned. Image: Martel Maxwell

“Come on boys,” I said, “We’re going on a road trip.”

I’d made a promise – on the days I wasn’t working I’d take them out and we’d have fun in their summer holidays.

“Like my friend Ben who’s at Legoland? Can we go there?” Asked Chester.

Well, more day trip than road trip, I explained – somewhere closer; we’ll need to be back for tea.

“Just you wait – you’ll love it.  We’re going to something I did when I was your age. An annual event. It’s amazing, so much fun.“

“What?” They asked, wide-eyed.

“Broughty Ferry Gala Week”, I announced with some flourish.

The schedule online confirmed it was indeed the annual celebration and that while Castle Green had hosted its biggest event of the week already, on the first Sunday of the gala  – there would still be things in the park to amuse kids throughout its run.

Crowds at Broughty Ferry gala week’s main event. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson

And anyway, the park alone is magical for youngsters – from the crazy golf to coin operated cars on mini race track, to the climbing frames and sand pit digger. I remember it all vividly as a kid. That we can watch our own children enjoy it all is magical.

Fast forward half an hour and we got out of the car. The boys ran ahead full of excitement. Three minutes later, they ran back.

“It’s closed,” they said.

“What? Don’t be daft,” I replied – but as I walked onto the green, I could not believe what I was seeing. While not closed, it wasn’t far off.

Steel fencing cordoned off most of the things on which children can play. Workmen and diggers were stationed inside some of the closed off areas.

Workmen near Broughty Castle. Image: Martel Maxwell

I asked a woman walking her dog if I’d got the dates wrong.

“No,” she said.

“The council decided to start all this work before the gala. No one can believe it.

“It’s sad for the kids and an eyesore for everyone.”

She saw me look at the boarded up window where a man once stood handing out clubs for crazy golf.

“The council closed that too, a while back,” she said. “Would it kill them to open it up for the gala? The cars on the track? They’re not here either.”

The closed kiosk. Image: Martel Maxwell

This is no affront to the Ferry Gala itself, which is brilliantly organised by volunteers and sponsored by local businesses. The list of events – from sing-alongs for kids to sand sculpture competitions, beach boogies, art exhibitions, silent discos, themed nights in well-loved pubs – and much more, there’s something for everyone.

And not forgetting the institution of guessing the odd thing out in the shop windows of the Ferry’s thriving centre. Later, we did this and loved it – along with a pastries I’m still dreaming of from beautiful new restaurant Sandbanks, which I’ve been hoping to visit for months. And an ice cream van did arrive in the park which delighted us all.

I bumped into an old friend who takes a week off his full-on job to help organise the event – along with many others who give selflessly to promote the place they love and make residents and visitors happy.

Council must protect Dundee gems

Given the tradition, the thought and effort behind such an event- it makes it all the more bewildering that a decision was made to start major works which would stop kids playing, families picnicking, organisers making things look pretty at Castle Green – the one council-owned piece of the puzzle; the centrepiece to an extraordinary tradition, at the very time of its annual showcase.

Bonkers, anyone?

As I looked around at the metal barriers and workmen in hard hats, I thought of a recent Courier story.

That of the Council’s threatened closure of the Mills Observatory to save its operator Leisure and Culture Dundee (LACD) £40,000 a year.

Thankfully – though arguably shamefully for LACD, a knight in shining armour in the form of Dundee-based space technology company STAR-Dundee pledged £50,000 to keep it open. 

As an aside here, I’m slightly in awe that we even have such a company in Dundee and have to admit of not knowing about it – but a little research shows it’s an aerospace engineering outfit focused on spacecraft on-board data-handling and processing technology.

Mills Observatory.

Its CEO, Dr Stuart Mills, said: “The Mills Observatory is an important and unique feature of our city. For almost 90 years, it has been inspiring people of all ages to take an interest in astronomy and space, including several of our employees.”

It’s not the only thing the council has earmarked for closure – it being part of wider planned cuts, which could also see the Caird Park golf courses and Broughty Castle shut. LACD says the move would save around £500,000 annually. The emotional and cultural attachment we have to such places is huge.

At this point in my column, I imagine a decision-making council worker with their head in their hands.

What does she know? they lament.

What do we, the people of Dundee who complain about their precious landmarks, know about the cost of running them? When was the last time we even visited them? How do you suggest we save half a million pounds in these trying times?

But you see, not only do we have a right to question – we are also not stupid.

For half a million is nothing compared to the colossal embarrassment that is the Olympia swimming pool.

As I wrote a few months ago, it started well, to the tune of £31.5million – the cheapest (by £4.5million) of six tenders.

After a time, it closed because of an issue with a light fitting, before further investigation uncovered corrosion on the flumes.

There was a roof leak, possible incorrect levels of chemicals in the water and plans to combat condensation with baby oil.

Oh and insulation would have prevented objects falling from the ceiling.

But finally it reopened and all was well – until it wasn’t because a metal rod fell from a flume and almost hit a swimmer.

Is that inept spending of more than £30million the real reason our council is clawing back what it can, at the expense of our proud history and enjoyment?

The council get things brilliantly right – Dundee is flying in many ways that other towns and cities are not – and for that I sing and dance, possibly as nauseam to anyone who will listen.

But this is all wrong.

We’re not paying any less council tax, so why are public places and landmarks closing?

And what reason could there possibly be for kiboshing Castle Green on Gala Week? Madness, badness, ineptitude?

At what point do you stop funding the things that make Dundee, Dundee – before it stops being Dundee?

Yes there are three Dundees in that sentence – but it’s one council staff would do well to read – and then do better.