Kirkcaldy Leisure Centre: 10 years on from campaign to change its location
and live on Freeview channel 276
It was led by the Fife Free Press and secured huge support from shoppers and businesses, particularly in the east end of the High Street, who knew the Tolbooth Street car park was key to their passing trade, even more so after the major chaos they had endured during the public realm works which dragged on for far too long - but Fife Council’s preferred choice of location prevailed.
The £15m leisure centre was a much needed replacement for the old swimming pool which was long past its use-by date - there was no disagreement on that point, but its location did spark huge debate.
For many, it should have been at the waterfront near Morrisons - it could have been the catalyst that led to re-invigorating land which sits empty to this day. Others wanted to see it on the gap site in Victoria Road which also remains unused a decade on.
But the council’s preferred site was the car park, which it owned. Tolbooth Street was certainly prominent and one argument was it would then lead to people going into the town centre after a swim or fitness session, but it was also landlocked with no opportunity to add any additional facilities, such as flumes. Ironically, after removing as car park, it offered zero parking for visitors - an issue that rumbled on for many years. Councillors pointed to the ugly, under-used, unloved multi-storey next door, but it held about as much appeal as swimming in the sea after a sewage outage.
Tolbooth Street was also the second biggest revenue generator of all the car parks in the region - the one above the Postings was number one - and the fact it offered surface level, easy access to the High Street underlined its popularity with locals and visitors alike, hence the strong opposition.
Key players in the campaign included Alistair Cameron, now a Labour councillor, who ran ACA Sports, and businessman Yosof Ewing. Many others worked behind the scenes, digging deep into the planning paperwork.
Petitions garnered huge numbers of signatures of support - many of them visitors to the town who specifically used Tolbooth Street for its ease of access, and who were all genuinely shocked at its loss - and the campaign also uncovered the fact that there were historic access rights for businesses which backed on to the site; legal rights which saw the SNP-Lib Dem administration having to dig deep to secure.
In the end, the local authority’s preferred site won the day. It’s safe to say councillors running the administration weren’t overly impressed with the campaign, and the fact they were challenged all the way. Summoned to Fife House - a regular occurrence with pretty much every administration - I recall, council leader, Peter Grant, now MP for Glenrothes, outlining the case for the site. I said if he completed the centre I’d be first to jump off the high diving board. Nodding, he joked “and what makes you think I‘ll fill it with water first?”
He won, we lost, although cages were rattled by the campaign. I’ve still not jumped off the diving board though ...