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.