£2.2m bid to turn Lochgelly church into 'Rockgelly' climbing centre abandoned after a decade

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A £2.2million, decade long project to turn an old church in Lochgelly into climbing centre which would be used by up to 15,000 people a year have collapsed.

Plans to convert the old St Andrew’s Church on Bank Street into ‘Rockgelly’ and noww Fife Council is scrambling to make alternative plans after being left with an empty building. Cowdenbeath Area Committee councillors considered the situation on Wednesday before deciding to consult the community about the future of the newly refurbished former church.

It has largely been transformed into what was meant to be a regional climbing centre which would welcome up to 15,000 people a year. However, that project has fallen at the final hurdle after facing multiple challenges and setbacks during the Covid years. Earlier this month the Rockgelly organisation told the council that “a lease of the climbing tower could not be made viable.”

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“The situation has evolved over a number of years,” Gordon Mole, Fife’s head of business and employability explained. “Now it has reached the point that we can go no further with Rockgelly on the agreed basis. We are now considering alternative uses for the church as an improved facility,”

The church in Lochgelly was set to become a climbing centre with 15,000 visitors flocking to it (Pics: Submitted)The church in Lochgelly was set to become a climbing centre with 15,000 visitors flocking to it (Pics: Submitted)
The church in Lochgelly was set to become a climbing centre with 15,000 visitors flocking to it (Pics: Submitted)

The local authority is now exploring alternative ways to use the building, and the future of St Andrews Church has become tied up with the future of Lochgelly’s Town Hall. It has suggested that community groups and organisations could be moved into the renovated church and out of the places like the Town Hall - which has been in a state of disrepair for years.

But not everyone is happy with that idea. Long time local resident Paul McGowan, 55, has serious concerns. . He said: "We have a building that was given to the people of Lochgelly a long time ago. It has been underfunded and has been in a state of disrepair for 10-15 years,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve seen a number of vanity projects from the council and from other organisations that have requested millions of pounds worth of taxpayers money knowing full well that there wasn’t a huge amount of interest for this.”

He continued: “And now [the council is] going to drag all these people out of the buildings that they're in today and put them into [St Andrews Church.] That means other buildings in Lochgelly are going to be lying empty. It’s not going to be beneficial in the long run.”

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Mr McGowan also argued that the church building sits in the middle of town with no dedicated parking spaces and no disabled access - which could pose a problem for some community groups if they are forced to move. He also objects to what he calls a complete lack of community consultation up to this point.

“My ultimate goal here is to make sure the community is consulted and that secondly the town hall receives a budget for repair,” Mr McGowan said. “I want to make sure the building that was given to the people of Lochgelly remains with the people of Lochgelly and that it’s not sold off a couple years down the line.”

However, Cowdenbeath councillors have addressed those concerns about communications. On Wednesday, they stipulated that the community must be consulted about the future of both St Andrews Church and the Town Hall.

People feel very strongly about their town hall,” Councillor Rosemary Liewald (SNP for Lochgelly, Cardenden and Benarty) said. “It was not developed as a council initiative - it belongs to the people and they feel strongly about it. Part of this has to be about the future of the town hall.”

The committee acknowledged that the Rockgelly project had failed, and agreed that the community will be consulted about the future use of both St Andrews Church and the Lochgelly Town Hall.