After a debate lasting about 30 minutes tonight, the full meeting of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar voted by 19 votes to 9 with one abstention to retain the status quo over Ionad Spòrs Lèodhas and keep the sports centre facilities in Stornoway closed on Sundays.
This confirmed a decision taken by the Policy and Resources Committee earlier in the day. Councillor Angus Campbell, who chairs the P & R committee, said this had been largely because of concerns over finance.
Councillor Philip Maclean proposed an amendment to the official position of the Council which would have led to a year-long trial of the Lewis Sports Centre being open for three hours every Sunday. He pointed out that the people of the Southern Isles already had sports facilities open to them on a Sunday. He said he could not understand why the Council had two different systems in operation. He said the Council had a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of all the Islanders.
Councillor Maclean said the cost of keeping the centre open for the Sundays would be about £11,000 – and the Transocean oilrig company had just pledged £60,000 to the Islands to support youth sport, some of which could have been allocated to this. This is only a trial period and if no one took up the Sunday opportunity, then it would be brought to an end.
Other councillors took the view there was simply too little money available to add this facility – particularly when more financial cuts are on the way - and several reported that very few of the ward members who had contacted them had been in favour of the change. Several indicated that if there were any additional funds, they should be spent on other priorities. Several councillors spoke warmly of the conduct of the debate and welcomed the chance to debate the issue.
Councillor Donnie Steele said that at least 70 per cent of his mail was in favour of opening on Sundays and this was echoed by a survey of service users. He said the argument in favour of the opening was based on improving the chance for health and wellbeing, equality and basic human rights, issues which were being ignored. He suggested that money from individual ward funds could be used to support the trial. He said: “We will end up our Islands, no Future, if we are going to be blocking everything on a religious and cost basis.”
Councillor Norman Macleod said the report from the Chief Executive had made clear there would not be enough staff available to operate the facility. He pointed out that ISL was already open 84 hours a week and this was well in excess of any of the facilities in any other part of the islands.
Councillor Neil Beaton said he felt sorry for the people who were being denied the opportunities and freedoms which were available in the Southern Isles and he felt this was a decision which the Comhairle would come to regret.
Councillor Donald Manford said that many times over the years he had asked for the respect of traditions in his own part of the islands, and he had got this, so he would show respect for the views of people in other parts of the Islands in return. As such, he would neither vote for or against opening or closing of the centre.
Councillor Zena Stewart said that no consideration had been given to a six-day schedule with the sports centre closed on a different day, like Monday, as was done in one of the other island centres. She also doubted the fears of a great impact on other aspects of the culture just from having the sports centre open.
Councillor John Mackay said that if there was extra funding available then he would like to see additional hours for the swimming pools in Ness and Shawbost, or additional funding for PE teaching on the West Side.