Alex Rowley was a local councillor for the Lochs Ward (Benarty, Kelty and Kingseat) and leader of Fife Council when the decision was taken in 2013 to place Lochore Meadows into the hands of the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust.

Here are some of the things he said at the time:

“The Country Park is one of Fife’s best used visitor attractions with over 650,000 visitors a year going through the park and it is on our doorstep!” January 2013

“I am really keen to make progress and having much greater clarity on the options for taking the park to the next stage of development. We have on our doorstep one of the best outdoor facilities in the country and with a bit of vision and drive we can take the development to the next level. I am keen that local groups are involved in this development and will be discussing with the trust how best to achieve this”. November 2013

Alex Rowley’s last budget as Council leader awarded the Meedies on-going annual funding of £120,000 for additional staffing and future planning for Lochore Meadows Country Park as well as a one-off £1 million investment for the financial year 2015/16. In his speech moving the budget, Mr Rowley said:

“Fife Coast and Countryside Trust will take over the management and running of the Country Park from April this year and as part of this will undertake a feasibility study around options for visitor centre facilities. The Park attracts over 580,000 visitors per year making it Fife’s top visitor attraction, and it is also ranked 19th in the Scottish top 100 free visitor attractions.

The current visitor centre was built over 30 years ago and is in desperate need of either refurbishment or a new centre to replace it and recommendations on this will be developed over the next year with the £1million investment from the Council going towards whatever option is agreed. […]

We wanted to restore the core budget as we need to have the correct level of staffing and management in the Park in order to drive it forward. The Country Park is a major asset for the whole area and the resources we have brought forward in the budget will help move this facility forward to realising its full potential for the Cowdenbeath area and for Fife”. February 2014

Although Mr Rowley stepped down as Leader when he was elected as an MSP in 2014, he still had the Meedies in his constituency as the MSP for Cowdenbeath, and as an additional member of the Scottish Parliament for Mid Scotland and Fife since May 2016. Since August 2015, he has been Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour.

To date, Alex Rowley has made no public statement at all about the situation at the Meedies. The visitor centre and its environs look tatty and forlorn, a sad indictment of how Fife Coast & Countryside Trust and Fife Council have neglected to realise Mr Rowley’s wishes in 2013 for “vision and drive” and the involvement of local groups.

The whole sorry mess is crying out for some leadership now that the Fife Coast & Countryside Trust has also washed its hands of the Meedies.

Four of Mr Rowley’s local colleagues among the Labour councillors for the adjacent communities have been deafening in their silence on the issue. His remaining two colleagues have half-heartedly tried to push the current discredited proposal for a replacement against the wishes of the local communities with the usual mixture of carrots, sticks and side-swipes at the Scottish Government.

Mr Rowley’s successor as leader of Fife Council has also been singularly lacking in leadership on the issue. Cllr Ross’s sticks and carrots didn’t persuade local community representatives either, and while minded to press on with the current proposal, he has ruled out any further meetings or consultation between the Council and the neighbouring communities. Everyone is now waiting on his report to Fife Council’s Executive Committee on January 24, which may or may not get to determine a way forward.

In the meantime the existing centre may have won a reprieve from demolition for the moment, but it has been left to rot and no one knows what facilities, if any, will be available for visitors come the spring.

At the same time questions are being asked about the money. The £120,000 was meant to fund a steady flow of improvements and better staffing as well as getting the new visitor centre project off the ground. It was an uplift, taking the total allocated to the Meedies each year since 2014 to £520,000-£620,000. Precise details about the amounts of money and what it achieved remain murky. The current status of the much-promised million for the visitor centre is also unclear.

Mr Rowley enjoyed huge support from Willie Clark which helped him rise through the ranks remarkably quickly to become leader of Fife Council before being elected as an MSP. Willie Clark has always championed the Meedies, which is why the new visitor centre was going to be named after him. The extra funding Mr Rowley secured before leaving Fife Council was surely intended to signal his gratitude to Willie Clark for his support over the years as well as laying down his own legacy in the area. Willie Clark made a striking intervention at the second public meeting about the Meedies crisis in Benarty in December when he pledged his support for the community’s ambition and vision for the park.

Mr Rowley may have his hands full as Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, but his leadership is urgently needed by the park and communities at his own back door. Not only is one of Fife’s best-used and best-loved visitor attractions crying out for his attention, but a huge question mark now hangs over the Meedies legacy of both Alex Rowley and Willie Clark.

Linda Holt
Address Supplied

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5 Comments

  1. Tom Kinnaird

    January 10, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    The plan was for the trust, as a charity, to apply for charitable funding which is not available directly to Fife Council, and match the £1m Alex had pledged.

    This is where politics comes into play. Fife Council is a Labour-run administration. The funding body is a Scottish Government organisation led by the Scottish National Party.

    Needless to say but Labour can’t stand the SNP. For a Labour Council to seek assistance from the SNP in any way is absolutely forbidden. That would be conceding a huge own goal and handing a victory to the SNP.

    So the funding application was, in my view, deliberately botched, so that Labour could proclaim that the bad SNP have denied the much needed improvements at Lochore Meadows. The funding application was denied, but for good reason. The proposals were not considered an improvement on what is already there. That was a stage one decision. No further applications were ever made during the trusts three years in charge at Lochore Meadows, and not a single penny was contributed to the visitor centre outside of specific grants from Fife Council directly. That is despite the trust raising between £2m and £3m per year.

    The Lochore Meadows Development Master-plan, produced at considerable expense in 2008, describes the vision for the new visitor centre, in order to make it a modern visitor attraction, but none of what is in there was included in the new plans.

    Indeed, Alex Rowley could and should have initiated the Master-plan recommendations when he was the Leader of Fife Council, and Lochs Councillor, but for whatever reason, he chose not to. Perhaps he can answer to that at some point.

    Council Officers then took the decision to move forward with only the £1m originally pledged by Alex Rowley in 2013. A Fife Council architect was briefed to produce a “budget” design. This scant box is the most depressing piece of Scottish Architecture I’ve ever encountered. I know that they will say architecture often provokes mixed reactions, but to even suggest that an architect produced this work is insulting. A two year old with an etch-a-sketch could have produced a more imaginative design.

    To add insult, it’s to be 46% smaller than the current building. Its design is modular, so it’s pre-fabricated. We’re going backwards here, regressing to the post-war era when fast and cheap was paramount.

    Bear in mind, Lochore Meadows is up there in the Top 20 of visitor attractions in the whole of Scotland. It gets more visitors than Edinburgh Zoo, and that’s with the 1980’s buildings it’s limping along with at the moment, and Fife Council catering providing microwave bacon rolls and powdered coffee.

    Now you can begin to appreciate the lengths Labour will go to in order to avoid any form of teamwork with another party. They would rather shoot themselves in both feet and be hobbled for life in this area, than link up and do what’s best. We’re on the build up to local council elections too, and still there’s no budging them to ditch these plans and go back to the drawing board. It’s electoral suicide unfolding in front of our eyes, and some really good Labour Councillors will be the casualties. Lochore Meadows is held very dearly in the hearts of the local community, with it’s heritage ties to the coal mining days which preceded it. The land is sacred, the memories are treasured and the future is in folks minds now. The legacy we leave to our children and grand children is important to us all, and the disrespect this proposed monstrosity inflicts will not be forgotten.

    Fife Council made a deal with the Benarty Community, if we said we didn’t want it, the plans would be scrapped. The Council Leader, David Ross has dismissed that agreement because he wants to plough through with this regardless of what the communities think. Well hell mend you Fife Labour if you think this goes away after you all sign off on this building. If we can’t scrap the plans, we can certainly scrap the Labour Party from ever representing this area again.

    Reply

  2. Anon

    January 11, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Tom,
    A well written comment, however not good reading, which then surprises me as to why there are no replies to your comment. I would try to get all communities rallied together and lobby Fife council to see sense, and I am sure that Alex Rowley will understand that he has a duty to assist if he is to represent the will of the people. Politics should be left out of this, however it is probably unavoidable due to the information you give above, but I do have hope that there are enough people willing to voice their opinion, let’s get our centre noticed before it becomes a relic.

    Reply

    • Tom Kinnaird

      January 11, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      Thank you. It’s difficult to rally support because the whole process was kept almost completely secret, and although The Courier has been covering the story, the Central Fife Times only places Lochore Meadows in the Benarty Section, and the Dunfermline Press has so far failed to give it any coverage whatsoever.

      The mainstream titles won’t feature it unless there’s a Police probe or a public inquiry. Personally I think it should be in the hands of the Police. The sums of money involved are so far detached from reality now, it begs a lot of questions. A serious fraud investigation would be my choice.

      Reply

    • John

      January 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm

      Got to be serious this debacle around a new building question will put to all them who have nothing better to do than spend more time trying to point score against council purely political,it’s so obvious for all to see, I’m a very regular principal user off Lochore meadows the people making all the noises are never in park maybe 2/ 3 times at events they help with which I’ve no problem with, So the old main centre they would need a tour guide as they would get lost toilets / size building try using it than talking total crap just like a photo in paper the park is used by more visitors than locals so maybe ask them what they think Alex Rowley will not be stupid to get involved with this political football use are using to feed your own agendas oh local elections round the corner.

      Reply

      • Marian Smith

        January 12, 2017 at 10:13 am

        The people in Benarty and further afield deserve a decent building, as simple as that. Folk like yourself do nothing but try to undermine the decent people who fight hard to maintain justice for their community.

        It is obvious we are being screwed over by certain authorities and politicians, who are only playing a political game, and wish to keep the contol. All we are asking for is a building fit for purpose, and matches the vision and aspirations of the people.

        Reply

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