Kilbowie community buy out mooted

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A community buy out could be a possibility to save Kilbowie Outdoor Centre from demolition.

The idea, still in its early infancy, was raised at the last Oban Community Council meeting held on Zoom as part of a discussion about the fate of the centre at Gallanach.

Proposals to demolish the main building and sell it as a cleared site later this year have angered many people, both in Oban and outwith the area, with its closure by owner North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) triggering a Save Kilbowie Outdoor Centre Facebook group that has more than 6,000 likes.

Selling the prime waterfront location could generate about £680,000. NLC councillors narrowly voted for the centre’s closure at a policy and strategy meeting at the beginning of February.

Oban, Lorn and The Isles Area Committee chairperson councillor Elaine Robertson has sent a letter to North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim Logue asking for demolition to be reconsidered or delayed.

Mrs Robertson wrote: ‘We are aware that North Lanarkshire Council intends to sell the Kilbowie Outdoor Education Centre. We know that this is within your remit but find this very disappointing.

‘Recently we have become aware that demolition of the centre may be considered
by North Lanarkshire Council. If this is indeed the case, we would ask that the
council reconsiders or delays this decision to allow time for another organisation or
developer to consider purchase of Kilbowie, with the intention of running this
excellent outdoor education facility for the good of young people in the locality and
beyond.’

And Oban Community Council has  sent an open letter to Scottish education minister John Swinney asking for his intervention to stop the demolition. The letter is also going out to other MSPs and councillors at North Lanarkshire and Argyll & Bute Council.

Argyll and Bute councillor for Oban South and The Isles Roddy McCuish said: ”The first step would be to stop the clock, stop the demolition, and pause to see if a community buy-out would be viable or not.

‘It’s a fantastic facility. It would be absolutely criminal to demolish it. I’m thinking accommodation for the Mod, Craggy Island Triathlon on Kerrera and the likes of Oban Live.’

‘It could maybe continue as it is for educational outdoor use and we could open it up to schools in Argyll, working in partnership with North Lanarkshire Council so their children could still benefit from it too. There are options while it’s still standing,’ said councillor McCuish.

Until Covid struck, primary seven children in North Lanarkshire, about 100 miles from Oban, got the chance to attend Kilbowie every academic year. The outdoor centre also hosted a number of Oban community-based activities at weekends and in the holidays.

Oban North & Lorn councillor Kieron Green said he would be supportive if it was possible to get a group together to work on a community buy-out but said the question is to what extent would NLC wish to co-operate.

‘They are the ones that have control over it, understandably they are trying to maximise the return and get the best possible value back into their area for their taxpayers,’ he said adding a warning that although there ‘should’ be a community right to buy it was not guaranteed.

‘They would have to put forward a viable business plan and get resources upfront to take it on and that’s not always simple to achieve. There’s already a lot of people working hard to achieve projects for the community like at the harbour and Rockfield. A project like this would need people to be committed and if those people step forward to do it then that would be great.’

A spokesperson for Save Kilbowie Outdoor Centre said: ‘It would be great to see it saved in whatever form that takes – as it caters for every child in North Lanarkshire it would make a lot of sense for a North Lanarkshire community buy-out to maintain the provision in the authority.’

Oban councillor Julie McKenzie is calling for local people to ‘throw their weight’ behind opposing the ‘ill-conceived’ decision to demolish the centre.

‘To even consider pulling down a building that has served outdoor education so well is unthinkable at the best of times, however to plan this during the Covid pandemic, when we should be looking to utilise local authority educational space to the full, demonstrates astoundingly short-sighted decision making,’ she said.