SNP calls on council to save theatre

Saturday May 20th 2023


Howden park in Livingston.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

A campaign to stop the proposed closure of a Livingston theatre complex has been backed by the local group of SNP councillors.

The Hands Off Howden Park Centre campaign is fighting to save the venue, which is set to close under cost-cutting plans from West Lothian Leisure which will also see three local leisure centres shut down.

The plans have sparked anger among West Lothian communities, with groups including the popular local youth theatre Firefly Arts warning about the impact it would have.

SNP Councillor Andrew Miller, the Livingston North councillor who is the group’s community wealth building spokesperson, also chairs Firefly Arts.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service:. “Music, theatre and all of the arts, add so very much to our quality of life, and are particularly important to the young, the old and the most vulnerable in our society.

“We call upon West Lothian Council to listen to its residents and secure the future of Howden Park Centre.”

Hundreds joined a protest rally of Howden Park user groups led by Firefly Arts on Saturday which culminated in speeches by arts groups in front of the Civic Centre.

Group leader Councillor Janet Campbell, whose own Broxburn ward faces the loss of a swimming pool under West Lothian Leisure’s cost cutting plans, said of Howden Park: “This council must live up to its obligations and must listen to its people. This venue must not close its doors”.

Their opposition to the closure plans comes just a few days before the proposals return to councillors.

Two weeks ago the Executive passed a motion calling on the Scottish Government to release up to £70m funding it had been given for the retention of sports and leisure facilities.

The motion called for the Chief Executive to write to: “Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Social Care, Mental Well-being and Sport to demand funding via the Barnett consequentials and any other available funding to enable the retention of local swimming pools and leisure facilities in West Lothian.”

It also called for the Chief Executive to write to local SNP MSPs Angela Constance and Fiona Hyslop, and Livingston SNP MP Hannah Bardell to urge the Scottish Government to demand the funding from Holyrood to support sports and leisure.

The closure proposals have come from the board of West Lothian Leisure, an arms’ length charity trust, the trust has to have its proposals ratified by West Lothian Council.

Councillor Campbell said: “It is complete madness that this council is even contemplating closing this wonderful arts centre. As we can see from the protests, marches and petitions, the people of our county are outraged at the proposals.”

The councillor said West Lothian Council had received considerable amounts of public money to build Howden Park Centre with legal requirements that it operate as an arts venue and permanent home to firefly arts youth theatre for at least 25 years.

West Lothian Leisure’s proposals come back to the Council’s Executive for further decisions on Tuesday.

The Executive, the council’s main decision making body, has a majority of Labour and Conservative councillors, the One Lib Democrat and three SNP members. It effectively guarantees the minority Labour led administration the casting vote.

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