In­door sports cen­tre grant leaves group in cash cri­sis

The Oban Times - - News - EMMA CRICH­TON ecrich­ton@oban­times.co.uk

A COM­MU­NITY group has vowed not to give up de­spite los­ing out on more than £400,000 for a new in­door sport cen­tre in Fort Wil­liam.

Lochaber Sports As­so­ci­a­tion (LSA), the or­gan­i­sa­tion be­hind the plans for the £1.47 mil­lion train­ing cen­tre and com­mu­nity hub near Lochaber High School, is said to be ‘ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed’ to only re­ceive £200,000 from High­land Coun­cil, af­ter ap­ply­ing for £ 845,000 in­clud­ing VAT.

A re­port by the lo­cal author­ity’s di­rec­tor of fi­nance, Derek Yule, rec­om­mended the lower amount be awarded, as an ex­pected £400,000 de­vel­op­ers’ con­tri­bu­tion was lost when Tesco shelved plans to build a new su­per­mar­ket at the Blar Mor.

The blow now leaves LSA with a hole of £700,000 af­ter coun­cil­lors voted to dish out the re­duced grant by 36 to 29, with two ab­sten­tions, at the full coun­cil meet­ing last Thurs­day (Oc­to­ber 29).

It is hoped the in­door mul- ti-use cen­tre, which al­ready has full plan­ning per­mis­sion, will be used by Lochaber High School and other com­mu­nity groups out­side the sport­ing world.

Jane Blan­chard, chair­woman of LSA, said: ‘We have no idea how to con­tinue from here but be as­sured we are not giv­ing up. This project is more vi­tal than ever, shovel-ready and our com­mu­nity has in­vested heav­ily in its de­vel­op­ment. Thanks to all who have sup­ported us on the jour­ney so far and to our coun­cil­lors who spoke and voted in favour of the project on Thurs­day. I have no doubt we will win through in the end.’

Dur­ing the meet­ing last week, Lochaber coun­cil­lors ap­pealed to their col­leagues to sup­port the fa­cil­ity.

Al­lan Hen­der­son pro­posed the amend­ment to grant LSA the whole £ 845,000.

He said: ‘If this project goes ahead the schools would ben­e­fit from it greatly, par­tic­u­larly the high school there and the com­mu­nity would be able to use it at night and week­ends. We need to make sure ev­ery penny is in place so this can go ahead.’

Brian Mur­phy, coun­cil­lor for Fort Wil­liam and Ard­na­mur­chan, drove home the im­por­tance of an in­door fa­cil­ity in the town, which is one of the wettest in Bri­tain: ‘Al­most ev­ery­one has cracked a joke about Lochaber’s weather. We al­ways seem to be the butt of jokes about rain and that’s okay. We have lousy weather and we know that, but when we come and ask for a bit of help to do some­thing about our poor train­ing fa­cil­i­ties all kinds of dif­fi­cul­ties seem to be put in our way. The way things are now, it al­most feels as if it’s Lochaber’s fault that Tesco didn’t go ahead.

‘Over the years I’ve seen nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, not just sports but roads and all sorts of things, when there has been Euro­pean fund­ing, Scot­tish gov­ern­ment fund­ing and Sport Scot­land fund­ing avail­able and we have al­ways made a point of mak­ing sure that we get that and that’s been done many times. I see no rea­son why we shouldn’t do it this time.’

Con­cerns were also raised about the pos­si­bil­ity of LSA los­ing a fur­ther £ 500,000 pledged in prin­ci­ple by Sport Scot­land as this was sup­posed to be de­pen­dent on the High­land Coun­cil grant.

But in a faint sil­ver lin­ing for the group, Sport Scot­land has agreed to hon­our their pledge.

Ms Blan­chard said: ‘Thank­fully we haven’t lost the Sport Scot­land fund­ing but we still have £700,000 to find and no idea where to get it. This is a mas­sive step back­wards for us. I feel like we’re fur­ther away from our goal now, six years down the line, than we were two years ago.’

Coun­cil con­venor Iso­bel McCal­lum called the fa­cil­ity a ‘ very wor­thy project’, but added: ‘Clearly mem­bers would like to sup­port en­hanced sports fa­cil­i­ties in ev­ery part of the High­lands. We have, how­ever, a very chal­leng­ing financial sit­u­a­tion with a re­duc­ing bud­get and in­creas­ing pres­sures.

‘ We have a lim­ited avail­abil­ity of funds and we must cut our cloth ac­cord­ingly.’

An LSA meet­ing was due to be held last night ( Wed­nes­day) to dis­cuss how to save the fa­cil­ity.

Be as­sured, we are not giv­ing up.

Jane Blan­chard

LSA chair­woman

DE­TER­MINED: coun­cil­lor Brian

Mur­phy.

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