Falkirk Council to move forward with new leisure centre plans

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Plans to create a new £35 million leisure centre in the centre of Falkirk district have been backed by councillors – but they have pledged to make sure that Grangemouth won’t lose out.

The aim is that the new centre will replace the Mariner Centre in Camelon and Grangemouth Sports Complex which are ageing and expensive to run.

In addition to the central ‘hub’, smaller satellite facilities will be created across the district – in Grangemouth, Denny, the Braes, Bo’ness and Stenhousemuir – that will act as ‘spokes’, to provide facilities within easy travel distance for most parts of the district.

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But while members of Falkirk Council’s executive backed the plans, they also unanimously agreed that any replacement facility for Grangemouth should aim to include a swimming pool that is of a standard to host competitions.

It now looks like the Mariner Centre will close within five years. Pic: Michael GillenIt now looks like the Mariner Centre will close within five years. Pic: Michael Gillen
It now looks like the Mariner Centre will close within five years. Pic: Michael Gillen

The ambitious plans were created by a group of councillors from across the political spectrum who worked for eight months with council officers to look at ways to improve Falkirk’s leisure offer.

Councillor Paul Garner, who chaired the group, warmly welcomed the report, saying the changes would bring major benefits to communities.

He said: “Our current sport and leisure estate is in poor condition and deteriorating.

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“Unless significant action is taken now, in the not too distant future we will struggle to continue service delivery in our ageing venues.”

Councillors want to ensure Grangemouth still has a swimming pool. Pic: Michael GillenCouncillors want to ensure Grangemouth still has a swimming pool. Pic: Michael Gillen
Councillors want to ensure Grangemouth still has a swimming pool. Pic: Michael Gillen

He said the ‘hub and spoke model’ would ensure accessibility and would perform better financially.

The members of the panel – CouncillorsPaul Garner, Iain Sinclair, Jack Redmond, Robert Spears and Baillie James Kerr – looked in-depth at local facilities and also visited other areas to see what they were offering.

Labour councillor Jack Redmond, who is not a member of the executive, was allowed to address the meeting and he said he had enjoyed working as part of the cross-party group.

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Mr Redmond said they had been particularly impressed by East Dunbartonshire’s Allander Centre in Bearsden which “felt like a real destination”.

But he said he had concerns that Grangemouth – as the second biggest town in the district and with a history of having excellent facilities – could end up losing out.

However, the SNP agreed that keeping competition-standard facilities in Grangemouth was important and so added an addendum that proposals for the town’s facilities should include “acompetition- sized pool with spectator facilities”.

This was unanimously agreed.

Director of Place Malcolm Bennie said that the facility being proposed for Grangemouth would cost between £10 million (with no swimming pool) and £20 million (with a swimming pool), which was far more than the £10 million being shared between Bo’ness, the Braes and Denny.

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Grangemouth councillor Robert Spears said he was not reassured that the town’s “excellent facilities” would be maintained and said the “whole document reeks of centralism”.

Conservative councillor James Bundy asked for assurances that the projects would be affordable.

Mr Bennie said he believed the council is moving towards a sustainable financial position which will involve members making “really difficult choices” that would give the council the ability to invest.

The report suggests that closing the Mariner and Grangemouth Sports Complex would save £2 million a year that could be used to borrow to build the new facilities.

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This would be enhanced with £7 million from money that has been freed up by changes to the timing of repayments for privately built schools.

But Mr Bennie said it was important to note that the proposal agreed today was for officers to “go away and come up with costed proposals” that councillors will then spend time looking over before any decisions are made.