Harris Sports Centre users accuse Comhairle of inequality

Sports Centre users are angry at the differences between Harris and Lewis Sports Centres.
Sports Centre users are angry at the differences between Harris and Lewis Sports Centres.

Furious users of the Isle of Harris Sports Centre have accused the Comhairle of discrimination due to charges for the use the sports hall.

Sports hall users in Stornoway are able to use the sports hall as part of their Slainte Mhath card scheme – unlike users in Harris.

The council’s Slainte Mhath scheme has been a huge success since being rolled out in January 2010.

Members of the scheme pay a discounted monthly rate, just £20 for a family or £15 for individuals, which entitles users to unlimited use of all sports centre facilities.

In Stornoway this includes the gym, swimming pool and the sports hall.

But in Tarbert the sports hall is NOT included on the Slainte Mhath scheme which bizarrely means it can be cheaper for youngsters to pay for a bus to Stornoway to use the hall at Ionad Spors Leodhais on their Slainte Mhath card rather than pay for the hire of the hall in Tarbert.

Now, Mr Gordon Macdonald, former head teacher at Sir E Scott School, has written a letter to councillors accusing them of inequality.

Mr Macdonald said: “The Comhairle encourages the use of its sports centre facilities through its Slàinte Mhath scheme and deserves praise for doing so. However, there is a fundamental inequality in the scheme, which requires to be addressed.

“The issue of inequality is to do with costs rather than facilities – no one expects every facility available in Stornoway to be replicated in Harris. However, where similar facilities exist it is perfectly reasonable for users in Harris to expect that the cost of access will be no greater than it is in Stornoway.

“The situation facing the local badminton club provides a good illustration of the problem facing sports hall users in Harris. The club books three courts for two hours once a week, which costs £576.00 for a ten week block.

“To meet this cost each club member pays £5.00 per session. Perfectly reasonable one might argue, except that the equivalent cost for Slàinte Mhath members in Stornoway is exactly zero!”

Mr Maconald continues to explain the current situation is a significant barrier to individuals and organisations trying to develop sport and recreational opportunities in Harris.

“The badminton club, for example, is keen to increase the number of sessions available each week to cater for the needs of a growing membership, but costs are prohibitive,” he continues.

“Under the present system, the cost to an individual of three badminton sessions in the course of a single week would be £15 i.e. the price of a monthly subscription to Slàinte Mhath! This cannot be right.”

Another regular Isle of Harris Sports Centre user, Mr Andy Morrison, is also dismayed at the current situation which he insists will turn people off using the facilities.

He said: “We find the current arrangements of booking the local sports hall in Tarbert extremely frustrating, where a week’s notice is required.

“This is all the more galling because of the different arrangements in place in Stornoway, which smacks of inequality.

“As ever, it seems in Harris we are denied something that others are not.
“If that sounds like paranoia, consider that surely it seems something of an anomaly that it is cheaper for Harris FC to hire a bus to go to Stornoway to use that sports hall than it is to train in our own hall in Tarbert.

“It almost goes without saying that this involves two hours traveling; buses (or bus drivers) are not always available; youngsters are kept up later at night; and weather conditions in winter can sometimes make this a dangerous undertaking (or indeed, make it impossible).

“Also, another main gripe is that we cannot book the school changing rooms on a Saturday afternoon (after 1pm) unless two weeks notice is given, and even then, a much higher fee is charged.

“While the rest of the country is actively encouraged to participate in sports activities on a Saturday, our access is denied it seems by an obstructive policy put in place by our council.

“How does this fit in with their general policy trying to encourage healthy living especially among younger age groups in this, Scotland’s Commonwealth year?”

But the Comhairle have explained the charges are governed by policy but all costs and prices are under review.

A spokesperson said: “The school hall in Sir E Scott is subject to school let charges in the same way as the school hall in Shawbost, Lionel, Castlebay and Sgoil Lionacleit.

“These halls are integral parts of the schools and controlled and operated by the Education and Children’s Services Department (or FES on our behalf).

“The Lewis Sports Centre has its own hall and is controlled and operated by Social and Community Services.

“The charges for the school halls are governed by the Comhairle School Lets Policy.

“The Comhairle are currently reviewing the fees and charges across the Comhairle with a view to standardising the costs in all Comhairle properties.

“The fees and charges working group has been set up to take this forward and the first task is to set standard charges for the hire of rooms in buildings across the Comhairle (this will include school sports halls) and an early task for the group is to revise the School Lets Policy for the Comhairle.”