We write in relation to the possible reuse of the former Bonnyrigg Leisure Centre, which is due to be discussed at the full council meeting on 25/3/14, with cognisance to the council officers’ recent report on the submitted bids. We commend the panel for their thorough review of the submissions and welcome their comments. Whilst not disputing the analysis within this report, it does remain open to alternative conclusions being drawn to those forming the panel’s recommendations. We would therefore request that councillors give this analysis their full consideration before reaching their own conclusions.
The council officers’ analysis recognises that following a “significant level of community consultation” the Bonnyrigg Centre Trust’s proposals “represent community use of the building, and the submission provides a competent assessment of readily demonstrable consultation work undertaken by the Trust to gauge the types of uses which would most readily meet expressed demand”. It also recognises that the business plan is a “comprehensive document”. This is due to the extensive research carried out and advice obtained by the Trust from professionals and third-sector organisations such as the Development Trust Association of Scotland (DTAS) and Midlothian Voluntary Action (MVA).
A key element of the advice followed by the Trust relates to appropriate sources and timing of funding. The Trust therefore has a full list of potential funders, but most of these cannot process applications until there is a clear expression of intent from the council to transfer the building. The Seed Bed Trust is not bound by this restriction, and has granted £5,000 to assist in the process of transferring the building, saying: “It's about unlocking a building to be a beneficial community space, to make possible lots of projects current and future! We’re very glad that we can support people who are prepared to risk a lot of their own energy and resources for something that has the chance to make huge difference." Some councillors have also indicated that discretionary funds could be pledged.
Whilst we appreciate the officers’ acknowledgement of the business plan’s strengths in terms of community benefit, we also recognise that it is inevitably flawed. The Trust enjoys a popular mandate from local residents, and hundreds of people have committed thousands of hours of practical support, but precedent all over Scotland shows that projects of this nature can only succeed within an enabling environment. If councillors can take a broader view of the project, recognising the benefits and huge public demand, the specific criticisms can be resolved collaboratively. Now the report has been issued DTAS will provide £2000 funding for a professional business planner to assess whether the weaknesses raised can be strengthened sufficiently.
The report alluded to the fact that the Trust “would welcome Council involvement at an early stage”. We seek an enabling and collaborative environment, in line with party and governmental policies at Scottish and local government levels, which all call for co-production, user-led services, and social enterprise. The report recognises that “the proposals would support key Council priorities” and that the panel gave serious consideration to the option of recommending that the Trust should at least be given the opportunity to try and establish reuse of the premises for community use”. We are asking for the opportunity to be allowed to collaborate with the Council and sincerely hope that Councillors will be prepared to use their position to make this possible for the dedicated and self-motivated community of Bonnyrigg.