Falkirk Council: Hundreds turn out for meeting on future of Bo'ness Rec
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The astonishing turnout saw a lengthy queue of people waiting patiently to sign in, with every seat filled and many more standing in the hall.
The group of campaigners who called the meeting said they wanted to gauge support for their efforts to keep the Rec open.
Robert Stuart told the meeting: “If three men and a dog had turned up there would have been no point in continuing. But the turnout tonight is absolutely fantastic and that says it all.”
The rec is home to many classes, clubs and groups including a social club and a rugby club, while the gym is very well used by members of Active Forth, a rehabilitation programme used by the NHS.
But Falkirk Council says that subsidising the centre at a cost of nearly £900,000 every year is simply not affordable.
Mr Stuart was careful to be non-political, saying there was no point in playing “the blame game”.
But many of those who spoke believe that a lack of investment over decades has left the centre more vulnerable to closure than the Mariner Centre or Grangemouth leisure centre, which are also heavily subsidised.
The decision to close Bo’ness Rec was made by Falkirk councillors as part of a review that selected 133 council properties for closure or transfer out of council ownership.
The council is facing a £64 million budget gap and hopes getting rid of older and more expensive properties in particular will help close it, while encouraging communities to get involved.
But even the council admits a facility the size of Bo’ness would be very difficult to transfer to community ownership and no other proposals have been made.
Dorothy Ostacchini, who gave a presentation, said she wanted people to have the facts to argue against the closure.
She quoted Falkirk Council’s own assessment of the impact of closure, highlighting the risk that people’s health would suffer, in particular those on low incomes or reliant on public transport.
While the council has said residents will be able to use Bo’ness Academy facilities, Ms Ostacchini pointed out that the academy currently uses the Rec for many activities and lessons.
And while the council has said it will invest in the school to mitigate the closure, she says there is no detail or costs for this.
She also demanded fairness for the Bo’ness community which is seeing hundreds of houses being built while services reduce.
Many of those attending were eager to find out how they could help stop the closure, which will happen by 2025 if nothing changes.
There was applause for a suggestion that they hit Falkirk Council in the pocket by withholding council tax.
Most people though agreed they should all be writing, not just to councillors, but also to MSPs, MPs and even the First Minister, demanding that the decision be reversed.
Independent councillor Ann Ritchie, who was one of the organisers, said the turnout showed the strength of feeling.
She said: “The meeting was brilliant and the feedback I have been getting is excellent.”
Labour councillor David Aitchison told the meeting that at next week’s full council meeting, his party colleagues will propose delaying closure to give more time to look at ways to increase income and reduce costs to make the centre viable.
As the meeting ended, a stream of volunteers offered to help with the campaign and vowed to keep fighting the closure.