By Iain MacSween Iain.MacSween@stornowaygazette.co.uk
The new 6.5million Stornoway sports centre will NOT be open for use on Sundays, councillors decided this week.
Members of the Comhairle’s Arts and Leisure committee were almost unanimous in their decision that Ionad Sprs Leodhais should open for just six days a week.
A report before members asked for a recommendation on opening hours to go before the Policy and Resources committee.
It revealed that after consultation with currently contracted pool staff, only one lifeguard was willing to consider working on a Sunday.
It was also anticipated that the cost of opening the new centre for four hours on a Sunday would be in the region of 16,000 per year.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr. Keith Dodson, Bayhead, moved a recommendation that the Comhairle should carry out ‘some sort of survey’ with the user-groups who regularly used sporting facilities in Stornoway, and Cllr. Donald John MacSween, Tiumpan, agreed.
Said Cllr. Dodson: “I’ve had responses from people for Sunday opening, and people against it, but there are still between five and six hundred who haven’t responded. We should consult with the public and do some market research.”
However, in a rare show of unanimity, almost every other councillor in the chamber spoke of their opposition to having a seven-day opening.
One of the most vocal was Cllr. Donald I. Nicholson, Braighe.
He said: “Keeping the Lord’s Day is very important to me and to many of my electorate. They have made their views known to me many times over the years and have told me again of their concerns here. I have not had one representation from anyone who wants the Sports Centre open on Sunday, but I have had many from people who want to keep it closed, and I include young children in that.”
Cllr. Nicholson revealed that one 11-year-old girl had written to him voicing her opposition to Sunday-opening.
He read out her letter to councillors: “God gave us six days, and all He wants is for us to have one day’s rest.”
Turning to his fellow members he said: “We should listen to what the children are telling us.”
It was one thing for a commercial enterprise to open on a Sunday, said Cllr. Nicholson, but as the Western Isles Council, they (the Comhairle) were leaders and as such it was imperative that they made the correct decision.
“Our workforce deserve to be treated with respect,” he added.
“It is a very telling statement that only one employee is willing to consider working on the Lord’s Day.”
Representing Ness, both Cllr. John Mackay, Dell and Cllr. Samantha Hawkins, Port of Ness, said they had received ‘umpteen’ letters opposing Sunday opening, and not one in favour.
Cllr. Roddy Morrison, Shawbost, spoke in a similar vein, adding: “I can only go by the emails and letters I have received,” while Cllr. Norman Macleod, Knock and Bayble, said that his constituents ‘certainly do not want the facility open on Sunday’.
“I ask that we respect the views of the community,” said Cllr. Macleod.
To suggest that Sunday was a day in which the family would enjoy a visit to the Sports Centre was not true, said Cllr. Ian Macleod, Blackwater.
“Saturday is a day of leisure, but most of the children here go to the Sports Centre with their friends, not their family. I don’t believe the family argument is valid at all,” he said.
While the negative financial implications were obvious, vice-convener Angus Campbell also thought it was ‘very important’ that the Comhairle adopted the principle of accepting the views of the people it represented.
Vice-chair of Arts and Leisure, Cllr. Iain Morrison, Barvas, said that he had received more representation on this issue than any other since he had joined the Council.
One elderly gentleman had recently approached him and asked if this was what he and his comrades had fought for during the war.
“He told me that he didn’t want us to be this free,” said Cllr. Morrison.
Cllr. Norman L. Macdonald, Goathill, revealed that he had received 37 letters for and two against the Sunday opening.
“We must listen to the people we represent,” he said.
“This Sports Centre will be different from what we have at the moment. The public will be allowed in with schools during daytime, not only during evenings and Saturdays.”
Breaking the pattern of comment was Cllr. Alex Macintosh, North Lochs, who admitted he was ‘personally not bothered one way or the other’ on the issue.
“The idea that people will not use Sunday as a family day is totally wrong. They do that on the mainland,” he said.
“A lot of people who would like to use the facility on Saturday cannot do so due to work commitments.”
In Cllr. Macintosh’s mind, people had a right which should be made available to them.
Chair of Arts and Leisure, Cllr. Calum Iain Graham, Coll, stated that people heavily involved in sport in the islands had expressed to him their opinion that having the Sports Centre open on Sunday was ‘not necessary’.
More important than the Comhairle’s policy on Sunday opening was the Fourth Commandment, said Cllr. Murdo Macleod, Manor Park.
“To say there is a tourist demand for this is a total myth,” he said.
“The electorate have said quite clearly that they do not want the centre open on Sunday. We must dare to be different.”
When debating on the issue of Sunday flights, Cllr. George Lonie, Coulregrein, had voted against them on the grounds of a 60-40 straw poll conducted in his constituency.
Here, the only representation he had received had been against opening the Sports Centre on Sunday.
However, he felt that if the Comhairle genuinely believed in democracy, then a survey of people who currently used the facility was the only solution.
Cllr. Angus McCormack, in agreement with Cllr. Donald Nicholson, felt that corporate businesses in Stornoway were not looking to develop on Sunday because of the lead the Council had taken in that area.
“I don’t think the Council should be seen to be eroding that,” he said.
Convener Alex Macdonald, Carloway, pointed out that the new Sports Centre would be providing users with 81 hours recreational-time a week.
“I think that is sufficient,” said Convener Macdonald, adding that he had received over 100 letters against Sunday opening, coming in almost on a daily basis and from children also, with only one letter in favour.
“That speaks volumes for me,” said the Convener.
He moved a recommendation that ‘mindful of the customs and traditions of our islands, the Comhairle confirms its decision to open Ionad Spors Leodhais for the times agreed by the Comhairle in September 2003 as follows: from 8am-10pm during Monday to Friday and from 9am-8pm on a Saturday, and that the facility be not open on a Sunday.’
Convener Macdonald’s motion was seconded by Cllr. Calum Iain Graham, Coll.
Cllr. Keith Dodson, who had earlier moved that a consumer survey be undertaken, then withdrew his recommendation, having accepted the viewpoints made by his fellow councillors.