Sports centre name row continues to rumble on

An artist impression of the new sports centre at night.
An artist impression of the new sports centre at night.

IT was one of the most controversial issues to emerge in Glenrothes in recent times.

In October last year, Scottish National Party members on the town’s Area Committee voted to name the under-construction sports centre which will replace Fife Institute after their late colleague, Michael Woods.

He was councillor for the old Pitteuchar council ward in which the Institute was located and was credited in playing a major role in saving the facility from closure, from which it was allegedly at threat in the middle of the last decade.

Labour controlled the local authority at that time and denied that there was any such plan, or that Mr Woods had ‘saved’ the Institute and opposed the £21 million new centre being called after him.

Their councillors also pointed out that a public consultation run by the then SNP-led administration had found that the biggest single percentage of votes was for the centre to be named Glenrothes Sports and Leisure Centre, a name they claimedwould best identify the centre to those using it from outside Glenrothes as being linked with the town.

But the SNP councillors insisted that the number of people who had taken part in the consultation - on both paper ‘votes’ and through internet selection - was too small to be significant and had the committee majority to push their choice through.

To add to the controversy, one of the Labour councillors - Kay Morrison, now the Deputy Provost of Fife - claimed afterwards that she had been mistreated during the meeting by two SNP members, the then council leader, Peter Grant, and his party collegaue John Beare.

Both the ‘accused’ councillors were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing in internal and external investigations, although the council chief executive reminded all members to ensure they behaved appropriately during debates.

Before last May’s council elections, Labour councillors are said to have indicated that if they were returned to power for the first time since 2007, they would review the decision and at the poll, they were, indeed, put back in office, albeit with the help of an informal coalition with other parties.

But last week, Labour leader, Alex Rowley, sought to defuse what was a potential powderkeg situation and announced that the centre - which will open next April - will be called after Mr Woods. He urged all parties to move on and work together to make the new facility as much a success as its predecessor had been.

That move was welcomed by councillor Grant, who said: “I know not everyone agreed with the original decision, but there’s a time to accept that a decision has been made and to put disagreements behind us.

“Allowing the arguments to continue would have been damaging to the new centre and to the town and I commend the action taken by the leader of the administration to draw a line under this.

“I hope we can all now work together with the Sports and Leisure Trust and other key players to make sure we deliver the world class facilities Glenrothes deserves.”

>> Behind the scenes unhappiness

The ‘Gazette’ understands that some Labour councillors are less than happy with Councillor Rowley’s stance.

One local member, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s fine for Alex to say what he has, and it seems reasonable to ask people to move on, but there’s a lot of bad blood over this and, at the end of the day, he’s not from this area and doesn’t have to live here.”

Opposition has also been voiced by David Nelson, chairman of Auchmuty and Dovecot Tenants Association and the CISWO Club, who accused Labour of “stabbing the people of Glenrothes in the back” over the issue.

He said: “The Labour councillors for our area, Ian Crichton and Ian Sloan, promised us during the council election campaign in May that they would look again at this issue if Labour got back in, which it did.

“We feel that they and Alex Rowley have back-stabbed us and that’s another promise broken.

“We are not against who it is named after - it’s not a party political issue - because Michael Woods was a good councillor who played his part in the campaign to save the Institute.

“It’s about democracy and listening to the people - a democratic vote was taken through the consultation and, although the one chosen wasn’t the name I wanted, as I’d have preferred to stick with the Institute, that’s what people decided and that’s what they should get.

“It’s going back to the same thing that we had at the time of the original Institute campaign and that ended-up with Labour losing the election after it.

“This is why people have no confidence in politicians who are promising things and then not delivering them.”

Mr Nelson added that he would be asking for a meeting with Mr Rowley to discuss the issue.

>> TIme to move on

Councillor Ian Sloan backed his party leader’s bid to draw a line in the sand.

He said: “Along with many other people in the Glenrothes area, I was dismayed when the past SNP administration chose to go against the results of the public consultation and the wishes of the Sports and Leisure Trust in naming our great new sports centre.

“However I do agree with Cllr Alex Rowley, leader of the administration, that it is time to move on and accept that we should get behind the centre with its excellent facilities.

“Like many other of our centres and facilities, I am sure that the users will soon have a popular name for their centre - after all, few people used the full title of Fife Institute for Physical and Recreational Education instead preferring the ‘Insti’.

“I and my colleagues are moving forward, respecting the sensitivities of the Woods family, and accepting the practicalities of the situation we find ourselves in.

“There are many really important issues facing the new administration in the Glenrothes Area Committee and Fife Council.

“We have to find a solution to the effect on the people of Leslie of the blasting and of planning conditions at Lomond Quarry. We have to ensure that the people of Glenrothes not only keep the out of hours service at Glenrothes Hospital, but if necessary the facilities and services are enhanced.

‘‘We need to push ahead with the regeneration of Glenrothes town centre. We will spend millions on training and apprenticeship schemes and develop early years services. We have to support local people with disabilities who will lose their jobs if Remploy in Leven is closed by the government.

‘‘We have to seriously consider how we deal with the mess and disruption that some travelling people can cause in our communities. We have to review the school estate where some schools are half empty when the spending should be on quality education and staffing. And coming up very soon is a massive £70 million cut in the council’s budget from both the London and Scottish Governments.

>> Staff view

During the initial row, the ‘Gazette’ was contacted by Institute staff who claimed that they could not speak out in public because they feared it could lead to them being in breach of contract.

They approached us again in the wake of Councillor Rowley’s decision and one worker, who asked not to be named, said: “We don’t want to go back into the new centre named after someone hardly anyone has heard of.

“Glenrothes Sports and Leisure Centre is what most people wanted it to be called in the consultation and that’s what it should be.’’

>> Centre users.

A group of Institute users have also written to the ‘Gazette.’

In their letter, they said: “We cannot get over the audacity of Councillor Alex Rowley - he basically is saying that the public have no say in the matter and we must just accept their decision.

“The public voted on what to call the new centre and it certainly wasn’t The Michael Woods Centre. We think there are a great many people in Glenrothes disgusted with their decision and even more disgusted that we the public are being told to ‘get over it’.”