CAST your mind back to the heady days of the council election campaign and the promises that were being thrown around like so much wedding confetti by political parties desperate to win your vote.
The big pledge they all seemed to sign up to basically boiled down to becoming a more listening local authority, a more communicative council, indeed a council which would run the city in co-operation with its residents rather than handing down decisions taken behind closed doors and then attempting to prevent dissent.
Who wouldn’t agree with that? Indeed, it could well be one of the factors that won Labour – the main insitgator of co-operation – just enough votes to make it the largest group in the City Chambers, though not quite big enough to go it alone.
And when we spoke before the election, Labour leader Andrew Burns told me that his vision of a “co- operative Capital” meant there would be a radical change to the way services were delivered, that the talents of people in communities would be utlitised and that the council would “help facilitate what they want to do”. Well right now there’s a perfect opportunity for proving that these pledges were about more than just words.
Earlier this week, the Splashback campaign group submitted proposals for the community to take over the running of Leith Waterworld – the saga of the closure of which has been told in much detail in the pages of this paper over the last few years.
Edinbugh Leisure seemed unable to make it financially viable (although the climbing centre at Ratho has been kept going despite massive losses) and handed it back to the city council to operate. It’s my understanding that the board of Edinburgh Leisure didn’t think for a minute that the council would just close it. But despite much local campaiging, that’s what happened and the last splash was heard in January. However, people power –which seems to be becoming a major force in Edinburgh, just look at the vocal strength of the cycling lobby –was angrily moved into action. Now Splashback has submitted a bid to the council outlining how it could take over the running of Waterworld, how it would boost income by extending opening hours and introducing soft play and more classes, and how it would reduce operating costs.
The outline of its plans don’t seem to be completely pie in the sky and it readily admits that a subsidy would still have to be forthcoming from the council, although it would be much smaller than is usually the case with such facilities.
Now there will be those who suggest that no subsidy should be paid to keep places like Waterworld going. That they should be able to pay their way, sink or swim so to speak. But this a community resource, not a chain of coffee shops or a private leisure club which relies on people forking out hundreds of pounds for the privilege of saying they’re a member.
Precedents have already been set. When the Crags Sports Centre was closed by Edinburgh Leisure a new charity was formed between Boroughmuir Blaze Basketball Club, basketballscotland and Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association to reopen the place. It’s now thriving – even running holiday sports clubs for children this summer.
Similarly, the Queensferry Recreation Centre, another victim of cuts, has been taken over by the not-for-profit Queensferry Sports and Community Hub Company, created by Queensferry Rugby Football Club.
These places are still open because the people who used them valued them. It’s the same with Leith Waterworld – even if the costs of running a swimming pool are bound to be so much more than those of a gym hall.
And which councillor, given the wave of enthusiasm there currently is for all sporting endeavours thanks to the Olympics, would want to condemn an area of the city to having fewer places to be active? To leave very small children and the disabled, who find the warm waters of Waterworld more conducive to swimming than those of more ordinary pools, without the opportunity to go for a swim?
The newly refurbished Royal Commonwealth Pool is a fantastic resource – the Team GB swimmers who used it before the Olympics would testify to that. But that shouldn’t mean other pools have to shut to accommodate the city having such a first-class facility.
Leith Waterworld is now Labour’s and Andrew Burns’ first test on proving that they really believe in the co-op ideal and that they are the way forward for this city. Here is a place which the public wants open, which it’s prepared to run with just a little financial help from the council. It’s time the council stepped up to the podium and proved it’s got the will to see through its promises.
You couldn’t make it up
IT looks like the end of the road for the campaigners trying to save the Suntrap Garden. The beautiful oasis at Gogar, gifted to the city by an eccentric rich rubber plantation owner decades ago, is being sold off – probably for housing – by a college which teaches . . . horticulture.
Irony is as dead as the Suntrap soon will be.