Outdoor centre loved by Motherwell and Bellshill pupils could shut

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By Neil McGrory

Local Democracy Reporter

A popular outdoor centre in Oban, which has provided activity weekends for local children for many years, could soon close.

And council bosses say they have little choice in the matter as the authority must save millions in its upcoming budget.

On Friday, January 31, councillors will decide the future of the amenity, which has been repeatedly threatened with closure during more than a decade of cutbacks.

Kilbowie has grown and currently has space for 120 pupils facilitated by 13 instructors and three support staff. Its main function is to provide outdoor experience weekends for primary seven pupils.

Every pupil at the Primary 7 stage in North Lanarkshire is offered a place at the centre which lies two miles on the far side of the bustling port town which is known as the Gateway to the Isles.

However, providing the facilities and pupils transport costs the council more than £800,000 per year - and officials say they can no longer afford to meet the cost of the trips there.

If the popular site was sold, it is expected to raise around £680,000.

The issue has become a political hot potato for North Lanarkshire Council amidst claims that the life chances of young people who are separated from the great outdoors are being squandered

Activities offered at the centre include kayaking, abseiling, gorge scrambling, mountaineering,sailing and rock climbing

Its many supporters have told the council that youngsters may not otherwise have the opportunity to try these in a more urban-setting.

A year ago, news that the future of the centre was in doubt sparked a great deal of public anger.

The authority then made the decision to keep Kilbowie operational for another year - and there was no lack of support for this.

For a related Facebook group, Save Kilbowie Outdoor Centre, has more than 5000 members - and there has been a flare-up in the levels of activity on the site as protesters vent their anger at this potential shutdown.

One person, who works at the centre and did not want to be identified, said staff were informed on Thursday, January 23 – just eight days before the vote.

And they believe that there was method in the timing of this controversial announcement which created such a furore the last time.

The person added: “This time detailed plans to close the centre are being decided upon with only one week’s notice next Friday, January 31, from when staff were informed.

“ That is no doubt to try and avoid the backlash over the idea after last time.”

A North Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: “The council is fully committed to quality outdoor education.

“A review of current provision was commissioned and a report will be considered by councillors which sets out options.

“While we recognise Kilbowie provides great experiences for our pupils, the facility is expensive to maintain and, because of the necessity to allocate groups to specific weeks due to travel time and cost, some groups of children can have their activities curtailed by weather conditions.

“In addition, forecast reductions in the council’s revenue budget mean that levels of subsidy provided by the council may no longer be sustainable.

“As the report notes, the council has ambitious plans to develop our own local assets.

“Should it be decided to close Kilbowie, we must stress that pupils will still have opportunities for quality outdoor education.”