Councillors have backed a £350,000 match-fund bid for a community 3G sports pitch at Bayview Stadium in Methil.
The plan, which was pitched against East Fife Community Sports Academy’s (EFCSA) rival bid at King George V Park in Mountfleurie, went before Levenmouth Area Committee for consideration today (Wednesday).
Members narrowly voted by four votes to three in favour of the Fifers of the Community (FFTC) bid but only after it came under intense scrutiny by Councillor David Alexander, who criticised the project’s links to East Fife FC.
He said: “Who owns East Fife? I only ask that because if East Fife goes into administration all contracts cease.”
He later added: “In your report you state that the chairman of the charity has to be at all times a representative of the club.
“The charity and the club are exactly the same people, aren’t they?”
Cllr Alexander also raised concerns that East Fife and other affiliated clubs would take up nearly 40 per cent of the artificial pitch’s weekly usage.
“What is left for Levenmouth sports groups to get involved here? I’m looking to spend £350k of public money and I’m looking to benefit local groups, existing and new,” he argued.
FFTC representative Allan Duthie assured members the charity was ‘stand alone’ and had approval from charity watchdog OSCR.
The arrangement would see FFCT paying less to lease the land from East Fife FC than what the club would pay for pitch hire, he argued.
The project also had support from Richard Brinkley, head of Disability Fife Sports, the Youth Academy and East Fife Ladies.
“East Fife FC sold land about nine months ago for £120,000 and paid off most of its creditors,” he commented.
“East Fife are as healthy as any other football club.”
Meanwhile, Stewart Kirkwood, representing EFCSA, argued that the creation of a ‘Levenmouth Sports Village’ at Fife Council-owned King George V park offered a wider variety of sports to local groups.
Concerns about parking provision would be addressed by building a new car park on the grounds of the former Parkdale care home.
Cllr Tom Adams queried whether local residents would cope with the park used for up to 16 hours a day.
Mr Kirkwood replied: “We haven’t conducted an extensive survey but there will always be somebody who objects.”
Cllr Dave Graham submitted a motion backing the Bayview bid on the grounds of sustainability and was seconded by Cllr Andrew Rodger, who believed the site’s infrastructure gave it the “upperhand.”
“This is a first class facility,” he said.
“East Fife has been here since 1903 and I hope it will last another 100 years.”
Cllr Alexander’s amended motion was backed by Cllr Charles Haffey.
Councillor Alistair Hunter, who headed the EFCSA bid, was absent from proceedings.
Speaking afterwards, he said he was “bitterly disappointed and bemused” at the decision.
“Four councillors voted against a plan that contained access to more sports, more participation, more value for money, more capacity, more external investment in Levenmouth and more community involvement than the other bid with a significantly lower financial long term risk,” he commented.
“The councillors who voted against our bid showed a clear and distinct lack of ambition for Levenmouth and a reckless disregard for the significant financial risk to public money by investing in a facility with precarious finances and lack of clarity around ownership.
“Today’s decision represents a step forward for the finances of privately owned East Fife Football club and a giant step back for a genuine commitment to growing community sport in Levenmouth.”
He added: “Despite differing visions on the best way forward, we want to wish East Fife all the best”
The business case for Bayview, which is expected to cost £537,000, will now be developed by Fife Council officers.