Rent hikes fears for town groups

0311043 SSFF dunnikier oap centre 'OAP Centre at the X of Dunnikier Road and Lauder Road, Kirkcaldy

0311043 SSFF dunnikier oap centre 'OAP Centre at the X of Dunnikier Road and Lauder Road, Kirkcaldy

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HUGE hikes in rent for halls in Kirkcaldy will be the final nail in the coffin for community groups, the Press has been told.

The warning comes as rents for halls and centres in the town have increased by as much as 338 per cent in just one year - a move branded as ‘disgusting’ by one dance instructor.

As part of an annual review, Fife Council has increased rents at Kirkcaldy’s Philp Hall from approximately £22 per hour to £77 after 8 p.m., while all other centres in the town have undergone a similar review.

Council bosses said the cheap rates meant large organisations were profiting from a Council Tax subsidy, but the hike has been met with disgust as groups are forced to pass costs on to the public.

Lorraine Brown, who teaches line dance in the hall, told the Press: “I was paying £34.45. The rate is now £50.23 per hour during the day and £77.76 at night. I think that this is disgusting.

‘‘All the small local groups using the hall to keep people in the community healthy are being forced to leave - Philp Hall is all but empty now.

“The majority of my class are retired and for many it’s a social event as well as a way of keeping fit. I don’t want to increase the fee.”

Lorraine has found a rare space in St Marie’s Church Hall, but said that was a struggle:

“I spoke to a few churches in the town and they are really full at the moment because of the number of groups who have moved out of Council premises.”

Fife Council community services boss Joe Fitzpatrick confirmed that the steep rise in rents is down to large commercial organisations, such as Zumba, profiting at a rate of almost £200 per hour - “effectively a subsidy by the council tax payer”.

He told the Press: “Charges need to reflect not only the running costs of the halls, but also the costs of caretaking staff, especially in this very difficult financial climate.‘‘

“We are sorry that this particular organisation has been adversely affected by the new, but fairer, charging structure because of the low numbers of people attending.”

Mr Fitzpatrick added that because of the group’s situation, the Council offered them additional interim support, but it was still not financially viable for them to continue at Philip Hall.