THE Scottish Government has been urged to save an outdoor education centre from closure amidst public outcry.

Visits to North Lanarkshire Council’s celebrated Kilbowie Outdoor Centre have become a “rite of passage” for local children, according to supporters.

As many as 3600 youngsters have attended annually until now, with schools from other regions also paying to send their pupils there for skill-building sessions that backers say change lives and boost attainment.

Subsidised trips to the Oban facility give some their first break outwith their local area and give all access to physical and mental challenges that can’t be undertaken in the classroom.

The closure decision was passed by just one vote earlier this year with Labour and Tory help amidst a raft of budget cuts aimed at closing a £35 million gap. The buildings at the centre, including a ski slope and other facilities, are to be demolished under pre-sale plans the council says will make the waterside site marketable.

No records of a vote to bring bulldozers in have been produced and it’s understood the move is being carried out under the sale decision.

It’s thought the site, which costs around £748,300 a year to run, will fetch a price of around £680,000 – after the costs of razing the centre.

Official estimates seen by the Sunday National put those costs at £165,000, including clearance, asbestos removal, fees, disconnections and surveys, though sources have told us the price could be far greater.

More than 12,500 people have urged North Lanarkshire Council to save the centre and SNP councillors are spending this weekend trying to find new ways to force a stay of execution after a previous attempt to halt the demolition and sale was blocked by Provost Jean Jones.

Michael Russell MSP, who serves Oban, has accused the council of “vandalism” over plans for the “great facility”.

Today the Sunday National can reveal that eight North Lanarkshire parliamentarians have signed a letter calling on Education Secretary John Swinney to intervene.

Signed by MSPs Clare Adamson, Richard Lyle, Fulton MacGregor and Alex Neil and supported by MPs Steven Bonnar, Marion Fellows, Neil Gray and Stuart McDonald, it asks the Scottish Government to “pause the demolition of this property” and have “other alternatives explored that would benefit all parties including North Lanarkshire Council”.

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Raising the prospect of a sale to a community group, it emphasises what the centre has done for “thousands of children from one of Scotland’s most deprived areas”, stating: “A community-owned outdoor education centre such as this would be of great benefit to children across Scotland, especially at a time when the current pandemic has increased inequalities and highlighted the need for outdoor learning.”

Improvements worth £1.3m having been carried out at Kilbowie in the past five years and sources have told the Sunday National any new operator could expect to open right away.

One said: “It’s in that state. A lot of money has been spent even in the last two years.

“It’s an incredibly valuable resource that changes kids’ lives. The North Lanarkshire public don’t want it shut, the kids don’t want it shut and the teachers don’t want it shut.

“You can only sell the silverware once.”

North Lanarkshire Council did not answer when asked if the centre has been or will be offered for sale to commercial or community parties prior to demolition and what exploratory work, budget and timescale has been put together for a new residential centre that council leader Jim Logue has suggested will be built at Strathclyde Park, Motherwell.

Instead, a spokesperson said the move is based on “an assessment of the marketing options available for the site”, adding: “A procurement contract to demolish the remaining buildings at the former outdoor centre will be issued in the coming weeks. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the year and the land will then be marketed for sale.”

A spokesman added: “This council is fully committed to continuing to provide our pupils with quality outdoor residential education opportunities.”

However, Logue said his minority administration would be “more than willing to discuss” alternative options with Argyll and Bute Council, should Russell present them.

He stated: “I understand the deep sense of attachment that many feel about Kilbowie in our communities, but it is clearer now than ever that the share-based facilities which are part of the experience are now no longer fit for purpose for the post-Covid world we’re set to live in.

“The Kilbowie buildings may be going, however, our commitment to an invaluable outdoor learning experience for our young people will remain.

“If Mike Russell wishes to intervene on this issue, perhaps he should enlist the support of Argyll and Bute Council to look at alternative options. North Lanarkshire Council would be more than willing to discuss these option with Argyll and Bute Council.

“In the meantime, I would remind Mr Russell that the only ‘vandalism’ taking place in North Lanarkshire has been the 13 years of catastrophic cuts to our budget thanks to his government.”

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IN Oban, councillor Julie McKenzie wants local people to voice their opposition to the loss of Kilbowie.

She said: “To even consider pulling down a building that has served outdoor education so well is unthinkable at the best of times, however to plan this during the Covid pandemic, when we should be looking to

utilise local authority educational space to the full, demonstrates astoundingly short-sighted decision making.”

Last week Coatbridge North SNP councillors Kirsten Larson and Allan Stubbs attempted to lodge a motion that could have brought in a two-year pause on the disposal of Kilbowie, keeping it in the local authority’s hands until after the 2022 council elections.

This was prevented under a rule barring two votes on the same matter during a six month period. But without a demolition vote having taken place, Larson says the block is being wrongly applied, something rejected by the ruling administration.

The SNP group has until tomorrow to file an alternative and will spend the weekend attempting to do so.

Larson said: “The decision of North Lanarkshire Council to close perhaps the best outdoor centre in Scotland is particularly regrettable in the circumstances in which we find ourselves – this is a time where we should be focused on increasing provision of outdoor learning for young people in a controlled environment rather than demolishing it.

“The SNP group in North Lanarkshire has urged the council to consider not the removal of this facility but its latent, but untapped potential.

“I and many others have real misgivings about the financial viability of the sale of Kilbowie, particularly since the Labour-led administration continually silences our attempts to discuss alternatives.

“We are working with the outdoor learning sector in Scotland to help ensure schools and other establishments are appropriately supported in taking learning outdoors during the education recovery phase.

“The provision of education – including decisions on the funding and use of outdoor education centres – is a matter for individual local authorities.”