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Inside Track Insight Hillend

Stewart Harris

area.” Indeed, Harris suggests that community sports hubs could offer an alternative to hard-pressed councils unable to meet the costs of sporting facilities, but wanting to keep them in public use. “Tere’s a commitment to look at local sport, but there’s also an openness to look at different ways in which the community can manage or look after some of those facilities. Tat needs to be done sensibly, it needs to be done very proactively, and it shouldn’t just be an afterthought. “If a local authority is saying ‘we need to look at our facility stock and there are some areas that we need to rationalise’, there’s a reason for that decision. It might be under-use, it might be that the costs are prohibitive, so I think we just have to take it case by case. For example, Inch Park wasn’t the greatest park in Edinburgh; but the council have given it over to the community, they still support them, and it’s going to be transformed. “If you look into the future, I think we’ll see a

mixed economy around facilities managed and developed by the community and those that are provided and driven by local government and facility operators in the private sector. Our view is that you have to have an infrastructure. If participation in sports is going to be sustainable, you have to have an infrastructure, and it doesn’t always have to be run by the local authority.” Tat model isn’t applicable everywhere,

however, as Harris himself admits. Te Midlothian Snow Sports Centre at Hillend, just outside of Edinburgh, typifies the problems that the Scottish Government, sportscotland and local authorities face in reaching consensus on preserving key sporting infrastructure. Te popular dry-slope winter sports facility was earmarked for closure in 2010 by Midlothian Council, who own and operate the site, after it was revealed that it was operating at a £500,000 per-year deficit. An award-winning official campaign, backed by 26,000-strong public

28 12 December 2011

“We hope these exciting plans to this national facility will have a positive impact on snowsports for people across the country by helping to maximise the full potential of the site”

support on Facebook to save the site, attracted national attention, but it fell to sportscotland to pick up the bill to save Hillend. “As a national facility, the centre required national funding and we approached sportscotland and the Scottish Government to provide this funding. All those involved, including Minister for Sport Shona Robison MSP, Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, Midlothian MSP Rhona Brankin and sportscotland acknowledged that this was a nationally important facility which plays an essential role in the development of snowsports in Scotland,” says Derek Milligan, leader of Midlothian Council. “sportscotland worked with Midlothian Council to secure funding of £533,000, while the Scottish Government approved the release of £400,000 revenue funding for two years only to support the use of the centre by children in the Edinburgh and Lothians area through the sportscotland Active Schools programme.” Harris is clear that the finance was provided on the basis of assurances of improved financial management in future. “Te deal we cut was that in return for investment the facility would be kept in public ownership and there would be a need to completely review the management arrangements. Tey’ve done that; they’ve made significant changes and all of a sudden the deficit has come down dramatically, and they’ve not

even enhanced the facility yet. “Sometimes, it takes

a hard conversation, and this is the role that we will play. Sometimes, you have to look at the books. We were given quite a lot of criticism early on, saying ‘sportscotland needs to fund this’, so as

soon as we saw that we contacted Midlothian Council,” Harris says. For him, the outcome is a positive one: “I think the result will be a facility that will be the envy of Europe, and in public ownership, which is good.” Te improvement plans for Hillend include an additional 80 metres of nursery slope, new lifts, safer ski matting, new snow-tubing slopes, and the reopening of a 210-metre abandoned piste. However, while Milligan recognises the impact and generosity of the settlement, he maintains that without ongoing state support, the facility is financially unsustainable. “We hope these exciting plans to this national facility will have a positive impact on snowsports for people across the country by helping to maximise the full potential of the site. However, the long-term future of the centre relies on a commitment by the Scottish Government to provide national funding, Milligan says. “Te council was already working hard to cut costs and increase the use of the centre. Tis included changes to staffing arrangements, increasing ticket prices and making more efficient use of facilities.” “Te Scottish Government needs to commit to assisting with ongoing capital expenditure and the year-on-year costs of this national facility. As one of the smallest councils in the country, we can’t be expected to continue to fund what has been acknowledged as a national treasure.”

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