Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Crags 3: Sentiment over sense

The Crags Sports Centre, which is set to close next month, was born ten years ago out of a community campaign and continuing generous public subsidies.  Initially unable to maintain viability, it was bailed out in 2006, and then run by Edinburgh Leisure the arms length company.

The Crags is predominantly a Sports Centre used by users who pay the Edinburgh Leisure rates for the privilege.   It is also used by local groups, including charities such as the Canongate Youth Project which offers a broad range of services to young people.  Of course it contributes to the community locally by providing opportunities for fitness and for community interaction.

Two questions arise.  Should the Council step in and save it?  Should it have been set up in the first place.

The answer to whether it should be saved is straightforward.   There are no resources for indiscriminate subsidies.   Fitness is to be encouraged but it is absolutely not the role of the local authority to extract money from some taxpayers to subsidise the fitness and lifestyles of others.  There may well be a case for limited and direct intervention is specific cases but a general subsidy such as this cannot be justified.

It should be noted that there are extensive University fitness facilities in the Pleasance which are available, in some measure at least, to the to the public.  In addition, £37m is being ploughed into a major reworking of the Commonwealth Pool in Dalkeith Road.  Both of these facilities are little more than a stone's throw away from The Crags.

It was a community project and campaign which created The Crags Sports Centre.  As far as I can understand, it was never of the size and scope to operate other than with a substantial subsidy.  I do not know what the business case was on which it was built.  Clearly it didn't work. Perhaps the possibility of a continuing subsidy encouraged those involved to elevate the sentiment of having a community facility above the realities of running it.

It does look to be a lesson to be learned. Perhaps the lesson is to avoid creating a millstone for future generations for the sake of  current benefits, which may in themselves be real, but which come at a greater cost than is admitted.

I suspect we have witnessed a triumph of sentiment over sense.   Part 1 of this series is here and Part 2 is here.

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