ISLANDERS and conservationists are “gravely concerned” about the potential imminent closure of a local marine education centre amid an agreed expansion.

Locals say this potential closure sees the council “effectively reneging on an agreement” made in October 2022 but North Ayrshire Council stress their goal is to deliver a balanced budget.

Arran Outdoor Education Centre (AOEC) is to be subject of a vote by North Ayrshire Council to decide whether to close it permanently.

The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) is concerned about the impact the closure could have on outdoor education amidst the climate and biodiversity crises, as well as on its own ongoing operations. 

North Ayrshire Council, who run the outdoor education centre, agreed a binding 5-year partnership with COAST to use AOEC’s infrastructure.

COAST is due to use AOEC’s infrastructure to operate its new research vessel RV COAST Explorer, which is set to be officially launched in spring 2023.

READ MORE: 'Obscene' decision by council to spend up to £50k on coronation holiday

This was agreed in exchange for use of the boat by school groups from across North Ayrshire and beyond who visit the centre. 

The vote whether to close the centre permanently is due to take place on March 1.

Ahead of the vote local residents, conservationists and others are joining forces to highlight the benefits of the centre. On Saturday, February 11 at 11am, a peaceful march will begin at Lamlash pier to the Arran Outdoor Education Centre.

Some members of the Arran Coastal Rowing Club will be accompanying the group from the water.

An award-winning organisation which successfully secured Scotland’s first No Take Zone in Lamlash Bay and the South Arran Marine Protected Area in 2016, COAST has worked with the outdoor education centre for two decades providing access to marine education for children and young people. 

The National: Executive Director of COAST says the community is concerned about the impact on ArranExecutive Director of COAST says the community is concerned about the impact on Arran (Image: COAST)

Executive director at COAST Áine Purcell-Milton said: “With their proposed closure of the Arran Outdoor Education Centre, the North Ayrshire Council are effectively reneging on an agreement for the new COAST research boat to be housed there and utilise the centre’s infrastructure.

“Without this, we have grave concerns whether our long-awaited project will even be able to operate and the impact this will have on our island.”

The AOEC is the only outdoor centre on the edge of Arran’s No Take Zone and is uniquely placed to offer visiting pupils an opportunity to learn about the marine environment and the outdoors.

Both mainland and local island school groups have used the educational partnership with COAST for the past 20 years, through regular presentations and more recently, guided visits to the COAST Discovery Centre.  

READ MORE: Irn-Bru helps woman complete 'world's toughest row' in record time

Sophie Plant, education and communications manager for COAST, said: “Outdoor education has been repeatedly proven to have a huge range of benefits for children’s physical and mental health, self-confidence, and well-being. 

"It also provides children from low-income and urban areas a unique chance to experience the outdoors and personally connect with nature in ways they may not have access to otherwise. This connection to nature is essential to inspire further generations to protect our seas and help mitigate biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.”

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson commented on the community concerns raised by saying: “It’s important to stress that no decisions have yet been taken on budget savings for next year.

“We have recently undertaken consultation across North Ayrshire which informed us of our residents’ priorities ahead of the Budget being set.

“However, across Scotland and the United Kingdom, everyone is feeling pressure from the cost of living crisis and the council is not immune from that.

“Over the past 12 years, we have had to find savings of more than £129 million while ensuring we protected frontline services and jobs.

“And there’s no doubt that difficult financial choices continue to lie ahead for all of us. For the financial year 2023/24, we currently anticipate a funding gap of £10.2million, while our financial outlook also indicates the Council has an anticipated budget gap of £34m over the next three years.

“However, no decisions will be taken on how to achieve these savings until Full Council meets to consider the 2023/24 Budget on March 1, 2023.”