The 1979 fight to save Burntisland’s open air swimming pool from closure

The news that the Beacon Leisure Centre in Burntisland is to re-open came as a welcome relief to the town.

By Allan Crow
Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 10:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 10:22 pm

Many feared the worst as it stayed closed while all other leisure venues across the region re-opened.

Long-standing residents will recall how previous civic amenities were lost - and not without a fight.

There was a time when outdoor swimming pools could be found in seaside towns across Scotland - and Burntisland’s facility drew thousands of people, and buzzed with noise and excitement.

Burntisland open air swimming pool packed with holidaymakers

It’s incredible to think that more than 30 years have passed since it closed.

The death knell was sounded in 1979, but the town didn’t give up without a fight.

The route to closure was a classic council response; make a decision, get a fright at the backlash and then call a special meeting to try to find a way out.

It started with a report considered in private by Kirkcaldy District Council’s leisure and recreation committee which put the case for not re-opening the pool that summer.

1979, the closure of Burntisland open air swimming pool makes the headlines in the Fife Free Press

This was April, just as the town was preparing for its busiest time of year.

News of the closure came as a hammer blow.

After hearing the protests, the council convener, Robert King, pledged that “everything humanly possible should be done to make this facility available to visitors throughout the summer months”.

Stirring words, but it was clear the council was getting backed into a corner.

Dysart Barony Boys Brigade and/or Lifeboys trip to the old Burntisland Swimming Pool around 1959

On one hand it had a report from officers which highlighted structural problems which came with a £25,000 repair bill – and the same again the following year.

On the other, it had a community – voters! – appalled at the loss of one of its most popular civic amenities.

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Around 100 people attended a hastily convened meeting on Sunday night which led to the formation of a “Save Burntisland Pool” campaign committee.

A letter of protest was delivered by hand the next morning to the Town House, pressing for a meeting with the convener and officials.

The local community council sent a letter to every councillor telling them that the decision – coming so close to the start of the tourist season – was “scandalous”.

Young members of the swimming club joined in, collecting signatures for a petition and even staged a protest at Kirkcaldy Swimming Pool ... before going for a dip!

The letters pages of the Fife Free Press were also packed with criticism of the council for the decision, and the timing of it.

May saw the special meeting called, and quickly descend into chaos as, rather embarrassingly, not enough councillors turned up to suspend Standing Orders to allow the debate to take place.

The following day, the full council was asked to vote, and came up one short – so a re-count was needed and one councillor, who didn’t vote, swithered, changed his mind and the procedural matters were handily resolved.

And when they did meet, they agreed to uphold their original decision to shut the pool.

The state of repair sealed its fate, with Councillor Charlie Gardner taking a slightly emotive stance by asking: “Are the people screaming for the opening of the pool prepared to take responsibility for any tragedy that might happen?”

The report to councillors noted the demise of many outdoor pools, but the whole affair left a nasty taste in the mouths of locals.

Councillor Douglas Kerr, SNP member for Burntisland, described it as “the most unpleasant and hardest issue” of his two years in office, while Councillor Brian Hill, SNP Glenrothes suspected “political shenanigans.”

One of the many letters published in the Fife Free Press spoke for many in the town when it stated: “It wouldn’t have happened had Burntisland Town Council still been here.”

The doors closed and a civic asset was lost.

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