A VETERAN Sutherland councillor has resigned from the ruling administration in protest after learning the long-awaited £3.5 million Dornoch Sports Centre project has now virtually zero chance of going ahead.
East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Jim McGillivray (right) is furious that a programme of new school builds in Inverness is likely to take precedence over the sports scheme, a project which dates back more than 25 years.
He is accusing Highland council of being “Inverness-centric” and of failing to give Sutherland its fair share of the capital funding available.
But the authority claims that the sports centre scheme has not been dropped and is still in the £55 million capital plan, which will be reviewed in February.
Cllr McGillivray has now launched a campaign aiming to wrest more money for the county. He is calling it “6% for Sutherland” and is urging local people and fellow councillors to support him.
He said: “Sutherland has six per cent of the Highland population and should in a fair and equitable council system get six per cent (£3.3 million) of the annual capital spend of £55 million.
“Six per cent of £55 million every year! Nothing like that has ever come to the county and the way things are being controlled from the centre, nothing ever will.”
Hopes were high that a sports centre for Dornoch would finally be achieved. The project has been “shovel ready” for some time with planning consent granted and a tendering process carried out. It was in pole position in the council’s capital plan and a funding package had been provisionally put together – the authority were expected to provide £3 million along with £200,000 from SportScotland; £200,000 from a private donor; £100,000 from Dornoch Common Good and £75,000 from Leader
Some £287,000 has already been spent in getting the project to this stage.
However, it became abundantly clear this week that there was little chance of the centre, which was to be sited at the rear of Dornoch Academy, going ahead.
Cllr McGillivray has seen an email from Cllr Matthew Reiss, one of the backroom budget team, which indicated that the authority will in February opt to commit its capital budget to new Inverness schools.
And, in a report before yesterday’s full council meeting, head of corporate finance Edward Foster warned that capital projects including new schools and leisure centres will need to be reduced, as the council can no longer afford to pay back the loans.
Also, SportScotland held a funding assessment meeting on Wednesday when it emerged it would not award its funding without Highland Council first committing the £3 million.
Another sign that the writing was on the wall for Dornoch Sports Centre is that the best contract price for the project is due to lapse on January 5, which means the tendering process would have to be undertaken again with a likely escalation in building costs.
Cllr McGillivray said: “The council have played this into the long grass and had their way.”
So angry is he over the issue that he promptly announced his separation from the Independent group of councillors, who form the ruling group in a coalition with Lib-Dem and Labour.
He said: “It is with great sadness that I announce my separation after 10 years from the Independent group. In so doing I immediately remove myself from the council administration and will sit from now on as a Sutherland Independent for the remainder of my term.”
He is now determined to fight for a share of the capital plan for Sutherland.
He said: “In the Highland Council, the Inverness tail seems to wag the rural Highland dog... Sutherland’s needs are so far down the list of Highland Council priorities as to be out of sight and will always remain there.”
He continued: “With a £3.3 million annual capital budget, Sutherland County Committee could actually do something other than just be a well-meaning talking shop.
“I call on my fellow Sutherland councillors to back this ‘six per cent for Sutherland’ campaign. I call on Sutherland community councils and individual Sutherland people to support this campaign.”
Joan Bishop, chairman of Dornoch Area Community Interest Company (DACIC) said: “Dornoch has been patient for decades waiting for this much needed facility, urgently required by our young people in a busy and well regarded school that has embraced the council’s three to 18 campus and deserves better treatment than this!
“We have been assured on numerous occasions that this project was in the capital plan and to be let down at this late stage is horrendous. The council seems to be taking an ever more Inverness-centric approach and failing all other communities.”
A spokesman for Dornoch Community Council said: “The community council is devastated that after all these years of hard work and money spent on the project that we are losing out again.
“Everything is being centralised in Inverness but there is no budget to provide transport to get down there.”
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson told the Northern Times “Nothing is confirmed yet. We told Jim he is anticipating something that may never happen. I am very sorry to see him go. He has been a loyal member of the Independent group for a long time.
“We have to make difficult decisions, do we fund new sports centres or do we fund new primary schools? That is the choice we are going to have to make.”