SCOTTISH Greens co-leader Lorna Slater is among those backing a petition to save an arts centre in Livingston after the Labour-led council administration in the area were accused of having their “heads in the sand”.

A campaign group was set up less than 24 hours after it was announced Howden Park Centre could be closed.

The petition on reads: “Howden Park Centre is more than a building; the closure of this establishment will have a huge effect on people’s mental health. Many of the clubs that use Howden have many vulnerable people that come along.”

The centre, Xcite Armadale, Broxburn Swimming Pool and Xcite Livingston, are all facing closure.

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The sites are run by West Lothian Leisure (WLL), an arms-length body of West Lothian Council.

Speaking to The National, councillor Robert De Bold explained the SNP group had been saying for months that a budget shortfall as a result of the Labour/Tory administration’s actions meant the sites would inevitably struggle.

“The Labour and Conservative administration have had their heads in the sand demanding the impossible of West Lothian Leisure until things came to a head in the middle of last week when they said they would need to close”, he said.  

On the SNP group’s Twitter page, a video has been posted showing Councillor Andrew Miller warning of the difficulties WLL would face if action was not taken back in January.

At the end of the video, a message reads: “West Lothian’s Labour-Conservative administration have mismanaged the council and are destroying our most valued facilities.”

WLL has had to request the council’s consent to close the four facilities. The body is facing difficulty in part due to the rising costs in energy and the burden this places on keeping swimming pools operational.

At a meeting today, the council agreed alternative options need to be explored before a final decision is made on the future of all the sites.

The leader of the council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, said: “This is a grave situation for WLL and is a stark reminder that a lack of funding from the Scottish Government is playing a significant and devastating part in the downgrading of local services in West Lothian.

“It is imperative that additional funding is provided to ensure local services are able to continue. If not, the consequences could be dire.”

The Council Executive has (today) instructed council officers to:

  • Engage with WLL to explore whether alternative options exist for the retention of facilities to include in the report.
  • Engage with WLL explore alternative commercial and community options for continued provision of services with other interested parties including key groups.
  • Address members' questions and concerns and provide further information
  • Bring back a report to the meeting of the Council Executive on May 23 to provide an update and further information

The SNP group had submitted a motion to extend the period to find alternatives to six months to allow for more breathing space.

De Bold added: “I think genuinely, Labour were surprised we found ourselves in this situation. I don’t think they saw this coming.

“They’ve very clearly had their head in the sands and were not aware as far as I can tell of what was going on and it did seem to take them by surprise.

“There are lots of things that can be considered but the unfortunate thing is we shouldn’t be doing this from the point of them facing imminent closure.

“We saw this coming. We weren’t surprised. They might have been but we in the SNP group were not. We’ve got documentary evidence saying the situation could not go on and that West Lothian Leisure were in an impossible situation.”

The petition to save the centre is fast approaching 10,000 signatures. Slater shared it on her Twitter account and said: “Howden Park is a focal point for the West Lothian community. Its closure would decimate opportunities for young people in West Lothian to engage in the arts.

“Please consider signing this petition to save Howden Park centre.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has increased the resources available to local government in 2023-24 by more than £793 million, a real terms increase of £376 million or 3%, compared to the 2022-23 Budget figures. It is the responsibility of local authorities to manage their own budgets and allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities.

"In 2023-24, West Lothian Council will receive £405 million to fund local services, which equates to an extra £17.2 million to support vital day to day services or an additional 4.4 per cent compared to 2022-23. In addition all councils will receive their fair share of the currently undistributed sum of £329.8 million.

“We’ve been engaging with industry through our Bus Taskforce and have been clear that the support provided to transport operators needs to evolve to ensure it remains fit for purpose and is sustainable in the long term. We are committed, alongside operators and local authorities, to improving services to ensure everyone has accessible public transport, regardless of geographic location.”