Inverness Leisure must be protected at all costs

by Colin Campbell

COULD some energy begin to drain out of the Inverness Leisure Centre as a result of impending council cutbacks?  Operators High Life Highland face cuts of more than £2 million, a blow to region-wide leisure provision with consequences that cannot at this stage be predicted. But Inverness Leisure and the superb role it plays in life and health in the Highland capital must be protected at all costs.

 In the midst of a nationwide “obesity crisis” the benefits it brings for the thousands of people, from infants to senior pensioners who use it, are incalculable.

 Open from early morning until late at night, apart from the gym, swimming pools and other facilities it offers, it provides around 200 fitness classes a week for folk of all ages and levels of fitness.

 For some, Inverness Leisure is literally a lifesaver.

It costs me just £20 a month, gold-dust spending as far as I’m concerned. For a monthly family ticket it’s not much more.

 Relatives of mine who’ve been there say it’s one of the best public leisure facilities – if not the best – of its kind in Scotland, and the least costly also.

 Is there a case for increasing charges? At a council meeting it was suggested a hike in fees could keep some people away. I’d have no objection whatsoever to paying two or three quid more a month – and that’s the kind of increase we’re talking about. And realistically, how many people would? What’s your choice? The price of a frozen supermarket pizza or continued access to the welcoming buzz, energy and motivation which enshrouds Inverness Leisure?

 The fact is the council has been messing around with aspects of health and leisure provision in the Highland capital for far too long.

They recently moved a step closer to creating a £1.5 million “regional tennis centre” in Inverness when councillors voted in favour of progressing an application to a national fund. The Transforming Scottish Indoor Tennis Fund would cover up to two thirds of the cost with the council and other organisations left to come up with the remaining £500,000. A new tennis complex? Whatever next?

Before that there were plans for a £25 million “regional sports centre” in Inverness, to be funded by the much vaunted Inverness/Highland “city deal”. Around 20 proposals were submitted from across Inverness for city deal funding – with a quite magnificent £315 million due to become available. The only one which has seen the light of day is the ongoing transformation of Inverness Castle. As for the others, so much time, commitment and ingenuity gone to waste. So the “regional sports centre” was consigned to the scrapheap – but not before Highland Council had spent around £150,000 on a feasibility study, now left to gather dust. Then plans for a new Inverness velodrome with a multi-million price tag catering for elite cyclists emerged. After toying around with the notion the council at least finally turned it down. Now the enthusiasts behind the project are apparently hoping to bolster its chances through the worthy but tenuous source of “crowdfunding”. We wish those involved all the best with that. But they’ll need all the luck they can get.

 And how could we forget one of the most pathetic and pitiful stunts the council has ever adopted when it was decided, a few years ago,  to put up street signposts around Inverness indicating the number of steps from A to B.

 That was, 452 steps or whatever from the Rose Street car park to the Eastgate Centre, or a truly daunting 581 steps to the far end of the High Street. This was beyond parody. Who was counting? Did pedestrians really drag themselves along thinking: “Thank God, almost there, only another 180 steps to go”?

 As empty, worthless – and costly –  gestures go, pathetic indeed.

There may be nothing to worry about regarding the quality, range and availability of facilities at Inverness Leisure. But cutbacks have consequences.

The council should focus fully on a building that is the superb centrepiece of leisure and health-related provision in Inverness, and not on ridiculously over-ambitious distractions emerging from its ever-active fantasy department and elsewhere.


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