This is a report of the first public meeting in May 2006
(organised by the Ladywood Steering Committee, the second meeting gave an update on the council’s proposals to demolish the Leisure Centre and the campaign to keep it open)
Ladywood Leisure Centre
Proceedings of the Public Meeting of 17 May 2006
In the Chair; Dr. D Cosens
Invitees present; Councillor Mrs S Thacker, Councillor A Montgomery, Councillor R Imrie, MSP Mr J Purvis, MSP Ms C Grahame.
Councillor D Fletcher tendered apologies
1. Dr Derek Cosens said that he was in the Chair for the evening because this Meeting was co-sponsored by the Community Council of which he is Secretary. He introduced the invitees to the audience of more than 150 people, noting that Councillor Montgomery had a prior engagement that meant he would have to leave the Meeting early. He explained that the purpose of the Meeting was to foster the process of consultation, hitherto absent, over the announced closure of the Ladywood and Queensway Leisure Centres and over other community facilities in Penicuik whose future was uncertain, namely the Town Hall and the Jackson Street and Carnethy Community Centres. Councillors would have this opportunity of hearing the views of the constituents whom they represent; and of explaining the reasoning behind the decisions they had or would be taking. He referred to the Report dated 5th April by Midlothian Community Services to Midlothian Council’s Cabinet in which it was envisaged that the facilities shortly to be completed at the Penicuik High School campus, together with those to be provided at some future time at the still-to-be-built Eastfield/Ladywood Community Primary School, would render the Ladywood, Queensway and Jackson Street Centres “surplus to requirements”. Indeed, Councillor Montgomery’s letter, that he circulated at the meeting, notes clearly the intention to bulldoze the Ladywood Centre to the ground to make way for a replacement for Pentland House, and that the Queensway Centre would probably be occupied by a charitable body, rumoured to be the YM/YWCA.
Dr Cosens noted that these decisions di_ered with respect to the fate of Ladywood from the advice offered by Midlothian Council offcials in the 5 April report considered by Midlothian Council’s Cabinet. He deplored the fact that the Midlothian Councillors had apparently accepted a non-consultation stance, not least because the February 2006 meeting of the Community Council had specifically asked that the conclusions from Midlothian Council’s Asset Management Review of Penicuik be discussed with it before decisions were taken and this had not happened. Dr Cosens then asked for contributions from the audience.
2. Mr Jack McGowan introducing himself, spoke as follows:-
My name is Jack McGowan. I am secretary of the Penicuik Crime Prevention Panel, a member of the steering group of the Penicuik Development Trust and a line dance instructor here at Ladywood. Ladywood is not just a leisure centre it has become a true community centre used by local people of all ages and by many people outside Ladywood also. It is a focal point and the heart of this section of our community: to close it down would destroy the social cohesion of this area that cannot be offset by providing less accessible facilities on the NW edge of the town. Both the young and the old will suffer, and certainly as the Crime Prevention Panel can testify, with young people in particular less accessible facilities will lead to an upsurge of vandalism and anti-social behaviour, which are already the biggest problems in Penicuik to-day.
On a broader viewpoint, if Ladywood, Queensway and Jackson Street were to close there is no way that all of what goes on in these places can be accommodated in the new building at the Penicuik High School campus.
It is not even just a matter of giving a group or organisation a day and a time for their activities; all of these groups have evolved to fill a time slot in the week that suits both the participants and the teachers or instructors. To try to change these time slots would disrupt or even destroy these groups, so if Midlothian Council cannot guarantee that every group or organisation will be o_ered the same day and time that they currently use, then the council will have failed and failed miserably.
But overlying all of this is the question of consultation. Have we as a community been consulted about all of these decisions. No we have not! The first rule of good management is that consultation always precedes decision making. This is a rule which Midlothian Council seems to have forgotten if it ever knew it in the first place.
I have this little booklet issued by Midlothian Council, it was sent to all households some time ago and is available in the library. It is called “Contacting your Council” and the last two pages are particularly interesting: they give the Mission Statement of Midlothian Council and its aims. From the statement I quote: “A Council, which works with its communities to achieve effective services and a quality environment”; and from two of the aims: “We will seek to involve citizens and communities in our decision making” and “We will look at ways to change how we deliver services based upon what customers want, as customers are at the heart of what we do”.
On current performance that mission statement and these aims are nothing more than cosmetic, pretentious, sanctimonious claptrap. Let me remind both elected and non-elected members of Midlothian Council, that they are public servants who are paid to look after our interests and yes, you can have the bottom line - we do pay your wages. Again on current performance we are not getting best value for money.
All of the activities which go on presently at our centres contribute to both the physical and mental health of the members of our community, and at a time when we are being urged to increase these opportunities. Anything which inhibits or contracts these opportunities has to be condemned and resisted. Finally, I would warn Midlothian Council, again both elected and non-elected members, that there is a new spirit abroad in Penicuik. It is a spirit which says we will not sit meekly back and blindly accept whatever Midlothian Council decides in its questionable wisdom to take away from us. This has started with the formation of the Penicuik Development Trust and is spreading elsewhere. We will increasingly hold you responsible and accountable for failure to live up to your Mission Statement and published aims. We want - no, rather, we demand full and meaningful consultation on this and all other important matters that a_ect our community so that we can have the kind of community we wish to have - not one that is imposed upon us.
3. Councillor Adam Montgomery interjected to say that this Meeting should be regarded as part of the consultation process. He had already conducted numerous meetings with the leaders of groups that would be affected by the proposed closures and none so far had identified diffculties in moving to the new facilities at the Penicuik High School campus or the Town Hall. Objections from the floor pointed to the dubiety of these post-decision consultations when expectations of pre-decision consultations had been disregarded.
4. Mr Bill Anderson recounted his experience when Community Policeman for Eastfield/Ladywood. The Ladywood Centre had been a god-send when built, it had been his base within the community, a fact which enhanced immeasurably his role as a guardian of the community. It had quickly attracted wide support from all age groups and interests in serving Ladywood and surrounding areas. As then so it is now. Besides the Centre’s emphasis on a wide range of regular and casual bookings for sport and leisure pursuits, it is the community focus for residents of all ages, with particular emphasis on activities for the old and the young. Its welcoming open-door policy is responsible for significantly reducing instances of anti-social behaviour in the area and in helping to resolve other community problems and even personal ones. The Ladywood Centre is genuinely the vibrant heart of the local community and to close it would do irreparable damage. It would also make things considerably more stressful for the vulnerable young and old who would be required to undertake inconvenient and less safe travel to the more distant alternative of the Penicuik High School campus. It is imperative that Councillors understand these issues and properly serve the people who have elected them by reversing their closure decision.
5. Councillor Montgomery was invited to speak. He robustly defended the closure decisions on cost grounds, arguing that they were supported by a study by SportScotland that modelled the current and expected uses of Penicuik’s community and leisure centres and from which it had been concluded that present and foreseeable demands would be met by the rationalization of provision into the new facilities at the Penicuik High School campus and, when built, the Eastfield/Ladywood Community Primary School. He said that if a business case could be made by residents for the continued use of the Ladywood Centre, and others in question, with zero funding from Midlothian Council, then that could represent a way forward. If a residents group were to be set up to consider this or any alternative he would be glad to meet it. He repeated his earlier contention that useful consultations were now taking place to ensure that problems would be minimized for groups transferring from the present Centres to the new facilities. Then tendering his apologies, Councillor Montgomery left the Meeting at for another engagement. Contributions from the floor continued.
6. Mr Bill Fearnley introduced himself as a resident of Penicuik for 35 years and a user, with children and grandchildren, of both the Ladywood and Queensway facilities. He was concerned about the obfuscatory nature of Councillor Montgomery’s letter, which had been circulated during the evening, responding to the request for information contained in the letter of invitation sent to him. His response talked about monetary costs but failed to deal with the issue of the social costs that would be incurred because old people and young children could not easily access more distant facilties; and it made remarks about school improvements which were irrelevant to the closure issue. It averred that the replacement community primary school for Eastfield/Ladywood would contribute to the facilites foregone by the closure of the two Leisure Centres, but no date had been set for the school’s construction and the capacity and other important details were unknown.
It referred to a
new for-rent council house building programme without
mentioning the much more significant private and Army housing estates currently
being built which would add 2000 or more to the local population and
commensurate extra recreational demands. Councillor
Montgomery’s letter asserted, without offering any supporting evidence, that
7. Mr Sandy Sievwright speaking for the handicapped people using the John Chant Centre, asked whether rumours were correct that this unique resource was to be closed. He pointed to the fact that Ladywood was a valued adjunct to the John Chant Centre because people going from one to the other could do so readily and safely without the need to negotiate heavily trafficked roads. The contrary would apply if Ladywood were to close in favour of the High School campus facility. Mr Sievwright added that he had the same concern about safe and ready accessibility for all of the elderly and young people who presently use Ladywood.
8. Mrs Mary Stalker spoke of the pleasure enjoyed by older local residents in the social club she and others had organised over the last 35 years. One member, now aged 91, had been coming right from the start. During the first 13 years, the Club had used a local primary school and had not always been sympathetically received.
Ladywood’s friendly and
informal surroundings had been welcoming then and had continued over the last
22 years - things were different when you have your “own” place. News of the
decision to close Ladywood had caused despair among
the Club members, unwilling and in some cases unable to contemplate a trek away
from familiar surroundings. Mrs Stalker said she had
fought for Ladywood to be opened and would now fight
to stop its closure. She could not see how the new
9. Contributions from the floor
N.B. At various times
during the evening there were often vivid and sometimes passionate
contributions from the floor. Usually the contributors did not identify
themselves but they all spoke from personal experience in testifying to the
crucial importance in the daily life of Penicuik of the Ladywood,
“Heart of the community” was a phrase frequently applied by contributors to the inestimable value of the facilities under threat. “Blow to community spirit” was another in similar vein.
A mother of three spoke of the time when, newly arrived in Penicuik, the friendliness of the staff, and frequenters of the Ladywood Centre had helped her and her family to settle into their new life.
A young contributor was concerned about the young people who chose not to take part in any of the youth organizations within the town nor scheduled activities at the Centres. They did not want to be on the streets but the closure of former drop-in places in Penicuik was a reason why they congregated aimlessly around TESCO and elsewhere. The loss of Ladywood and Queensway would simply add to those numbers and she also noted that, in the event of trouble, the Centres often provided a temporary refuge.
A pupil of Beeslack High School said that, outwith school hours, young people certainly did want to get o_ the streets but, having been in school all day, to do so they would not wish to return to another school campus. She was concerned too about what would happen to the timetabled games classes which took place in the Ladywood hall because Beeslack possessed no comparable space.
A Centre for
Hydrology and Ecology employee at the
A Penicuik resident of 22 years said that the opening of Ladywood and Queensway, with their provision for football and badminton, had been an enormous fillip to the lives of Penicuik people – individuals and families - and continued to remain so. And how could two such facilities be squeezed into one, not least given that competition for bookings would be effectively doubled.
A Ladywood resident spoke of reports in the Advertiser about additional facilities for Dalkeith, Loanhead and other townships whereas with Penicuik reports were of losses and closures, and asked why it was that Midlothian Councillors for the Penicuik Wards do not stand up for Penicuik.
A regular patron of the Jackson Street Centre said that there was “so much anger all over Penicuik” embracing not only the threat to Jackson Street but also to Ladywood, Queensway and the Town Hall.
A mother spoke of the enthusiasm for dancing of her daughter who, with some 200 like minded youngsters, were members of classes which made considerable demands on the space presently available at both Ladywood and Queensway (among other things, leading to the popular displays at Penicuik Gala Days). She questioned whether the new facilities could be similarly supportive.
Numerous interventions were scathing about Midlothian Council’s assertion that the Penicuik High School campus facilities will meet the capacity requirements of the activities displaced by the closures, and that no regard had been paid to the destruction of community spirit which inevitably will result.
10 Councillor Russel Imrie said with reference to the John Chant Centre, that he
had heard of no closure rumours but he would
investigate. He went on to confirm that the SportScotland
model which underpinned the Midlothian Council’s conclusions, had taken account
of the foreseeable level of new housing in the area, including current builds.
With this level of
overall expenditure it was proper to suggest that something has to give. He
mentioned that the Army is also expecting to use the new facilities. (It was
pointed out from the audience that there were doubts on security and other
grounds that the hoped for reciprocal arrangement with the Glencorse
barracks could apply.) Contrary to what had been said from the floor there
would be a handover period of 3 or so weeks during which the Ladywood and Queensway Centres
would remain open. There was interjection from the floor to say that, in the
context of the mismatch of provision, such a “handover period” was derisory. On
an earlier question about contamination on the former Crystal Factory site, Councillor Imrie said that both
the area where the Eastfield Medical Practice now
stood and that earmarked for the prospective new Primary School - which would
be a Community School - had been given the all-clear healthwise.
Councillor Imrie said that
he had noticed that no-one had said they did not want the facilities at the
11 Councillor Mrs Sheila Thacker
gave the position of the two LibDem Councillors, which differed in material respects from that
which had governed the closure decisions of the ruling Labour
group. She and Councillor Fletcher were not opposed
in principle to the Council seeking to rationalise
its property portfolio but were concerned that good quality, accessible
community facilities should be available in Penicuik, whether their purpose be
for learning, recreation or sport. By “good quality” they meant facilities that
are entirely suitable for the purposes for which they are used, satisfying
health, safety and security requirements. By “accessible” they meant facilities
that are available when they are required, at reasonable cost, that can be
accessed by everyone, not least the disabled, that pedestrian routes are safe,
that a bus service is available from the time of opening to the time of
closing, and that for those travelling by car there
is adequate parking. She said that it may be that if Ladywood
and Queensway were to close (recognizing that there is a proposal that, by some
means, the latter will be retained for community use), there would, in time, be
perfectly adequate, or better, community facilities; but it is not known whether
that would be the case or when they would come on stream. It was also not
known, for example, precisely what, in addition to a 25-metre pool, will be
available at the High School sports complex. Nor was it known what community
facilities will be available at the new school which is to replace Ladywood, Eastfield and Strathesk schools, or indeed when the school will be built.
In the light of all this, she and Councillor Fletcher
believed that the Ladywood and Queensway Leisure Centres should remain open and fully operational until such
time as there are at least equivalent facilities available, satisfying the
criteria that have been suggested above. The same arguments should be applied
12 The Chairman offered a summary of where the Meeting had reached. He noted that what had come as a complete surprise to everybody, is that the new complex is not regarded by Midlothian Council as a net addition to Penicuik’s existing community and leisure facilities but, rather, a replacement for some of them.
issue had never been brought up during the early stages of public consideration
of the new complex except in terms of what were then its only two components, that is the library and the swimming pool. He
recollected that Penicuik had been assured when
Moreover, the money needed to mothball Ladywood and Queensway - some £40,000 in a full year - could just as well be used in helping to keep both Centres open. Dr Cosens applauded the strong sense of community which all the contributions had demonstrated. In a town as spread out as Penicuik it was natural that there should be local community allegiances such as to the Ladywood and Queensway Centres, acknowledging also that their usage goes wider than their immediate neighbourhoods and, indeed, wider than Penicuik as a whole.
Bus services to bring people to an alternative central facility might seem practical in theory but would merely serve to fragment local community loyalties built up over decades, and in any case would not helpfully serve the old and the young. “Cutting out the heart of the community” was a sentiment expressed several times during the evening and in his view that captured the essence of the closure problem. He said that if the Centres had to be closed at the end of the day (at which there was loud dissent from the floor from those wishing permanent retention) then a much longer period of parallel operation was required; perhaps with Ladywood and the other Centres run under Trust principles by volunteers.
13 Mrs Sheena Saltoun asked to speak as the Community Councillor for Ladywood. She said:-
I was appalled and very concerned when I read in the Advertiser dated 20th April about the closure of Ladywood and other leisure facilities in Penicuik. This is the first we had heard about the closures. The future of the Leisure Centres was queried at Community Council meetings and the Community Council was informed that they were still under review and then we have this bombshell dropped. Ladywood and Queensway Leisure Centres are under 30 years old!
No consultation period has been given to group users within the Centres or with the Penicuik Public. I quote from the booklet, Midlothian Contacting your Council, listed under Midlothian Council ‘Our Aims’, Item 4.: “We will seek to involve citizens and communities in our decision making”. The community was in no way involved with the decisions taken and this clearly shows that one of the Council’s aims, on this occasion, was not carried out.
Ladywood Leisure Centre,
opened in 1984, is a thriving centre and used to capacity. The staff are excellent, courteous and very helpful. Children
can walk in with queries and ask for advice and are listened to as is the same
for all age groups. A very important part of community life would be destroyed
if the closure goes ahead. In this day and age community life should be held on
to, not destroyed. Ladywood Leisure Centre plays a
very big part in community life and facilitates not only Ladywood
residents but the whole of Penicuik and beyond. As the programme
on display shows there are some 32 user-groups taking part in a wide range of
activities from sport to social groups. Casual bookings, not included on the programme can be booked for a variety of activities
including - Football, Badminton, Basketball, Table Tennis, Volleyball, Carpet
Bowls, Short Tennis. There have been approximately 110 party events booked over
the recent 12 month period. The Centre is used extensively by a wide section of
groups and organisations from
The All Weather pitch is another valuable asset to the area and is used to capacity and indeed there is overdemand during the week. The pitch is booked extensively not only by casual users but by many football teams from Penicuik and beyond. The pitch was given to the area when the park was taken over by Edinburgh Crystal. The children of Ladywood, having limited space, make full use of the pitch; we know where our children are and that they are safe. Safety is paramount. Group users do not wish to travel to the other end of town when we have a gem of a Leisure and Community Centre on our doorstep.
How are you, Midlothian Council, going to facilitate all these groups and activities within another single Centre when there are Queensway and Jackson Street user-groups to take into account as well? We ask Midlothian Council to reconsider its decision and keep the Ladywood Centre open. And to undertake full consultations in the future not only with Ladywood residents but the whole of Penicuik. This is our Centre in our Town and we should have a say in what happens to it and others like it.”
14 Councillor Imrie said he was aware of the strength of the views expressed at the Meeting and suggested that a group of Penicuik residents might be formed to consider the issues raised with Midlothian Council.
15 Mr Fearnley endorsed what Councillor Imrie had said. Further dialogue was necessary to continue the momentum established by this Meeting. Because it was empowered by statute to be the two-way conduit between Penicuik people and Midlothian Council, and because it would be able to speak for all of the needs met by the Centres under scrutiny, he proposed that the Penicuik and District Community Council be asked to take the lead in taking forward this Meeting’s strong objections to Midlothian Council’s decisions. To that end Mr Fearnley sought the Chairman’s agreement to put to the Meeting the Motion which is at Annex B. The Motion was carried without dissent.
16 The Chairman in his capacity as Secretary of the Community Council, undertook to present it to the Council’s next meeting. A number of people signified a wish to join a movement seeking to advance the case for retaining the Ladywood Centre and arrangements to that end were made at the conclusion of the Meeting.
17 The Chairman invited the two MSPs to comment.
Ms Christine Grahame MSP said that, as a campaigner herself, she was much impressed by the strength of the views expressed from the floor and the positive and constructive approach emerging. The momentum needed to be maintained. She took the example of Ladywood, contending that it is obviously much more than a leisure centre, as would have been demonstrated if Midlothian Council had undertaken proper consultations. The lack of such consultations she considered deplorable. In the context of what Midlothian Council were intending, her experience indicated that youngsters and old people would not easily be persuaded by new arrangements requiring them to travel to a centralised site. She had been greatly impressed by the evident mismatch between the new facilities on offer and what is intended to be closed. She felt a campaign against the closures to be fully justified and offered her assistance.
Mr Jeremy Purvis MSP complimented those attending on an excellent Meeting. He acknowledged that the issues being raised were essentially between the citizens of Penicuik and Midlothian Council. Nevertheless he felt justified in making two observations. First he had been shocked to read in the paper prepared by offcials for the Council which advised that no consultations prior to a Council decision were necessary. Secondly, in considering further the cases of Ladywood, Queensway and Jackson Street one had to ask the “What, Where and How” questions. ‘What’ is that which the Centres have to make them special. They are obviously not solely providers of leisure and like pursuits. Far more are they convivial meeting places and agents for community invigoration and social cohesion. Rather than be closed, what should be done is to enhance and expand these attributes. As a small illustration - the facade of Jackson Street would be much more welcoming if those forbidding railings were to be removed. His conclusion was that closure or even reduction of these facilities would be counter-productive and Midlothian Council should be asked to reconsider. ‘Where’ is a matter of ensuring that access to facilities is convenient for everybody. This means an emphasis on the availability of genuinely local facilities as well as those more centrally placed for use by the whole town. He referred to the youth cafe in Edinburgh where, on a recent visit, he found some young patrons from Penicuik.
Why could not Jackson Street fulfil the needs of a youth cafe in Penicuik? ‘How’ refers to the manner in which things can be taken forward. Ladywood and the other Centres each need a steering group to canvas residents’ views and articulate the arguments to be presented to Midlothian Council. This arrangement could form the basis of a move towards management Trusts co-operating with the Council in the future operation of the Centres. The question of linking and concerting the activities of the separate Centres suggested a need to look at Penicuik’s internal ‘bus service’. The development of the new Barracks and the associated housing at Glencorse is likely to have a major impact and Town/Army dialogue is essential. The point Mr Purvis felt it vital to stress is that decisions, wherever taken, have to be very carefully underpinned because, if wrong, they cannot be reversed. He concluded by saying that he was pleased that, from this Meeting, good faith from the Midlothian Councillors for Penicuik is evidently on offer.
19 Colin McCall
gave a pictorial Presentation of the use made of all the facilities which had
been discussed during the evening, including that of the now closed Carnethy Centre woodwork workshop. Prior to the
Presentation he said that news of the possibility of Jackson Street closing
having appeared in the local press, his attempts, as Chairman of the Penicuik
Community Education Association, to clarify the position with Midlothian Councillors and officials had fallen largely on deaf ears.
His presentation would demonstrate that, as with the Ladywood
and Queensway Centres, users of
20 Chairman’s closing remarks: Dr Cosens, noting the late hour, remarked that the evening’s discussion has shown, among other things, how dependent the activities in the three Centres and the Town Hall are on the dedication and goodwill of the permanent staff and the volunteers who man them. He thanked the Midlothian Councillors for taking the flack, the MSPs for their observations, and all of the contributing residents and accepted a proposal for a follow-up meeting later in the Summer. The Meeting closed at 9.20 p.m.
25 May 2006
Annex A: Motion passed without dissent at Public Meeting of 17 May ’06
“This Meeting recommends that the Penicuik and District Community Council pursue an urgent dialogue with Midlothian Council on all issues consequent upon the decision to close various of the Penicuik Leisure and Community Centres, which together provide a wide range of facilities for the Town and its surrounding area.
This Meeting is confident that Midlothian Council will engage in the dialogue with the transparency, openness and goodwill embodied in paragraph 4 of the published statement* ’Midlothian Council- Our Aims’ ”
* N.B. the published statement referred to is included at page 11 of the booklet distributed to all households and entitled ’Midlothian - contacting your council’. The salient aspects read “Our Council... .will.. ...
• seek to involve citizens and communities in our decision-making.
• ensure that our services demonstrate Best Value for local people.
• look at ways to change how we deliver services based upon what customers want, as customers are at the heart of what we do.
• ensure that all local people can access our information and services easily.”
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