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August 27, 2008

Gargunnock community rally to save community centre

A year ago, Stirling Council announced plans to sell off a number of local community centres. For the past year the villagers of Gargunnock have been trying to convince the Council that they should be given the chance to own their center and run it for themselves. Last week, the Council finally agreed to the community’s request. However it seems this was a one off decision and other communities may not be so lucky


Community activists in Gargunnock have made a big impression on Stirling councillors – so much so that the locals look set to take over the village community centre.

Stirling Council’s Executive has agreed in principle to transfer the centre to the village’s community trust after members convinced councillors of their commitment and the merits of the proposal.

Villagers had launched their campaign to take over the hall more than a year ago after voicing fears that the council was considering selling it plus adjoining land.

They said losing it would “rip the heart and soul out of Gargunnock”.

The trust is seeking lottery funding for the centre, however its funding application is due to be considered by the Lottery Fund in November this year and time had been running out to provide the fund with necessary proof of the council’s commitment to the transfer.

If the funding application is approved, the trust will have six months to secure match funding of £247,000 for the project.

Scottish Ministers’ consent for the transfer will also have to be sought before the November deadline, something which council officers have been instructed to do “as soon as possible”.

Legal mechanisms are also to be put in place to ensure the title is not transferred until lottery and other funding is actually available.

The title or proceeds of the sale of the property would revert to the council if the project should fail in the future.

The decision was “warmly welcomed” by Labour opposition spokesman on corporate affairis Councillor Colin O’Brien.

He said: “The Labour group, the previous leader of the council Councillor Corrie McChord and I have given continual public support to this community bid as it was being presented to council officials.

“Thankfully the SNP administration’s change of heart comes just in time for the community’s lottery bid for funding.

“We wish it every success. This can be seen as a model of good practice for other local communities seeking the same ambitions for their area.”

Councillor O’Brien added that the SNP’s “complete u-turn” on the proposal was a “very welcome one”.

He said: “Their original decision at last month’s asset management group was to refuse the request.

“I raised it then as being totally wrong and I was aware how unpopular this was in the community, who have worked exceedingly hard for this project and are to be highly commended for their preparations and ambition.”

His comments, however, angered the SNP administration.

The asset management group convener Councillor Scott Farmer accusing Labour of spreading “irresponsible mistruths”, “shameful mudslinging” and attempting to score “cheap political points”.

He added: “Councillors McChord and O’Brien were absent from the initial meeting where the decision to refuse transfer was taken. So much for Labour’s supposed commitment.

“That decision to refuse was taken unanimously by all members present based on the available evidence and concerns over the robustness of the business plan and the future viability of the proposed transfer.

“Subsequently the Gargunnock Community Trust requested a meeting with the group to address our concerns and clarify the issues at hand. In the interests of genuine consultation and openness I agreed to a spcial meeting.”

Councillor Farmer said at no time in the intervening period did he receive representations from councillors O’Brien or McChord and he added the need for a speedy decision was “due entirely” to the previous administration having proved “incapable or unwilling” to come to a decision.

Councillor Farmer said that, after hearing the trust at the special meeting, the group unanimously overturned the previous recommendation.

They have agreed in principle to transfer the facility with “suitable safeguards” to protect it for future generations.

At the special meeting SNP councillors said the decision was a “one off” and commended the work of the community trust.

Tory leader at Stirling Council Councillor Alistair Berrill said: “I have been campaigning for this for a long time and our manifesto at the last council election committed us to putting more assets into the hands of communities.

“Communities across Stirling can take heart that they too can take charge of their facilities.

“The SNP have said this is a one-off and that is sad, we will be campaigning for a change in policy to give communities the freedom to run their facilities.