Skye Councillor calls for “reality check” over Inverness facilities

Councillor John Finlayson believes his east Highland colleagues lack perspective given the issues over access to sports facilities experienced by islanders.

Skye councillor John Finlayson has said fellow elected members need a “reality check” when it comes to expectations over additional leisure facilities within the Highland capital.

Councillor Finlayson’s comments come after colleagues voiced concerns over the lack of sporting facilities for residents in the east side of the city.

During a meeting of the City of Inverness Area Committee last Thursday (18th November) a motion signed by Councillors Ken Gowans, Glynis Sinclair, and Ian Brown highlighted the “significant absence of indoor public sport facilities in the east of Inverness, to satisfy the growing demand from people of all ages and abilities.”

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In the next five years 5,000 new homes, two new primary schools and one new secondary school are planned for the Highland capital.

City councillors cited concerns over travel time and fuel costs to access leisure facilities and the committee agreed to prioritise the ambition and provision of a major sports centre on the east of Inverness.

Councillor Finlayson, pictured near the Broadford football pitch, says projects like the community hub earmarked for the south Skye village need priority funding and support.

Hitting back at what he believed was a lack of perspective on the part of his east Highland counterparts, Councillor Finlayson was keen to highlight the challenges facing islanders wishing to participate in sport.

“While it is right for Inverness members to campaign for additional leisure facilities for the city, I do think that there also needs to be a bit of a reality check in terms of expectations and an appreciation of what the rest of rural Highland see as the norm, Councillor Finlayson told the Free Press.

“To suggest that a 15-mile round trip is a long journey to access facilities or that £5 on fuel is a high spend – or indeed that the idea of a 20-minute neighbourhood should be an expectation – are things that people living in places like Skye and Raasay would think of as totally unachievable.

“Round trips of 100 miles and much higher fuel costs are the reality for people living in rural areas, and I would hope that everyone at every level of government would recognise the importance of supporting rural communities where hard-working community groups lead on projects to provide leisure facilities.”

Comparing the stark differences between facilities in rural and urban areas within the Highlands, he added: “The plans for a community hub in Broadford, a sports pitch in Dunvegan and a decent all weather area in Sleat – which can all be supported around existing school capital projects – are the ones that need priority support and funding.

“If given, they can immediately support communities and add value and benefit to projects which will soon start or in some cases are underway.

“It must also be recognised that in terms of economy of scale, what might be viewed as small change in Inverness can make a life changing improvement in places like Skye and Raasay.”

In recent weeks it was confirmed that facilities in the west of Inverness, around the Bught Park, would benefit as part of the £20 million levelling-up fund being pledged to the city by the UK Government.

Last week it was agreed that a five-to-seven-member cross party collective – Inverness East Sports Centre Working Group – will be established, with support from officers, to liaise with stakeholders and partners, to identify possible locations, range of facilities and to identify and progress funding opportunities.

Further to the motion, and following the meeting, the Press and Journal detailed Councillor Duncan MacPherson’s concerns over the time of travel for those living near Culloden to utilise leisure provisions, with Councillor MacPherson citing a 15-mile round-trip, while Councillor Andrew Jarvie said that the expenses incurred for such a trip could cost up to £5 in fuel.

Inverness West councillor, Alex Graham, meanwhile, believes that those living on the east side should be able to live in a 20-minute neighbourhood in which they were within a short distance or cycle of accessing leisure, shopping, and health facilities.

Article by Adam Gordon, and images by Willie Urquhart.