Scrapping Ayr Leisure Center is main battlefield for pre-election council budget hostilities

The controversial £45 million Ayr leisure center plan is one step closer to becoming reality after two decisions went in its favor this week.

Councilors gave the center planning permission on Wednesday, albeit by a single vote at the Regulatory Panel.

And a proposal by the conservative group to scrap the project and retain the Citadel at Thursday’s budget setting meeting was also defeated.

The leisure center plan has been the target for a number of vocal critics who have complained about the loss of a number of existing facilities, such as a sports hall and diving pool.

There was significant pushback during Thursday’s debate from SNP, Labor and Independent councilors on the Conservative’s proposal to scrap the leisure center plan, allocating £6.6m to town center works and £1m to the seven wards outwith Ayr town centre.

The opposition proposals were presented by Councilor Ian Davis. He argued that no evidence had been provided to demonstrate that building a leisure center would increase footfall.

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But administration councilors lined up to hit out at the Conservatives’ proposals.

They hit out at the figures provided for the refurbishment of the Citadel Leisure Centre. The Conservatives proposals would provide £3m a year over three years.

South Ayrshire Councilor Craig Mackay questioned the Conservative’s budget proposal to retain Citadel

But Labor councilor Philip Saxton pointed to a figure of £22m that had been cited in the business case used to decide on the new town center facility.

There was also questioning of why the amount of conservative investment in the Citadel had remained at £3m per year, despite the impact of Brexit, covid and skyrocketing inflation.

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SNP councillor Craig Mackay agreed with Cllr Saxton, adding that he believed that the £9m would be insufficient to make the Citadel carbon neutral. He said that a prolonged closure would be detrimental.

But Conservative group leader Martin Dowey, who had been unable to attend the meeting, later explained that they were suggesting that £9m would simply be the amount allocated to the refurbishment, with council officers tasked with finding the most effective way to spend that money.

He also shot down claims by a number of councilors that, under the proposals, the Citadel would have to be closed for ‘three or four years’ to carry out refurbishment.

Conservative leader Martin Dowey was unable to attend to the budget but later responded to administration criticism.

Cllr Dowey responded that closure would only be required during a three month period towards the end of refurbishment, in order to revamp changing facilities, but could be managed otherwise.

Another amendment to the capital budget proposed by the Conservatives was to carry out another public consultation on the location of Girvan’s planned all weather pitch.

Independent Councilor Alec Clark lauded the leisure center plans and said it would have a positive impact on retail in the town.

This irked Girvan independent Councillor Alec Clark, who suggested that there had already been a full options appraisal and questioned whether the Conservatives were promoting a reduction in town center regeneration in Ayr.

Responding at Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Davis said his party did not agree that the leisure center would increase footfall in the town center and regeneration required a ‘broader approach’.

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SNP councillor William Grant added: “I remember when the opposition was hitting out about the riverside block and how we didn’t seem to be developing it. Now situation is that what they want to do is knock down the Hourstons site and consider at a later date what to develop it with, so creating another hole in High Street.”

The capital budget was the only aspect of the administration proposals that faced an opposition amendment. As well as the scrapping of the leisure centre, it also included a new consultation on the Victory Park all weather pitch plan.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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