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Ten issues Lanark needs to deal with

Now the clocks have changed and Easter has passed it is time to ask ourselves how things are progressing in the Burgh. On January 1st  2015 we made our new year resolutions, put the past behind us and stepped into a new year with anticipation, hoping that this year would surely be a good one!

Perhaps all the festive cheer gives us some unfounded confidence. Whisky tends to fill us full of grand ideas, cheers us up, and we see the world in a good light. But where are we really going? Can we expect to see any signs of progress on all the things that need to be fixed? Will we continue to put off action on all these things we really need to do? We have talked about our problems and produced plans to do something then a year later nothing has happened!

Here I will present a number of good ideas about things we need to deal with but seem to be going nowhere.
 

1. The Memorial Hall

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This was a project that was fully discussed with the users prior to starting the long awaited refurbishment of the facility. Above budget and years late in opening, the town ended up with a great facility. It has helpful staff, and has lots of extra space made possible by incorporating the Cargill Club. It seemed like a dream come true.

Unfortunately one thing was never addressed by South Lanarkshire Council who used the rates to administer our community resource. They removed the Hall to South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Limited (SLLC Ltd), a trust company now at arms length from the Council itself. It now ran the facility and had its own system of charging for using it!

Despite years trying to negotiate this, no one wanted to talk. Now volunteer groups who want to organise fund raisers for their charities find they are being told any catering has to be supplied by SLLC Ltd! No chance of getting a better deal from your own outside caterer! Want to run a bar at a race night at the Memo? You cannot do it yourself. SLLC Ltd allow no one but themselves to provide the bar; and they take all the revenue it generates to pay non volunteers to man the bar.

As a result most groups who relied on the Memo for fundraising find it cheaper to go to the Auction Market, Stanmore House and any other hall available. So much for encouraging volunteers!
Any sign of this real issue being addressed by SLC and SLLC Ltd? My guess the longer it gets put off the less of an issue it will be.

2. Lanark Racecourse

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In a similar move around the start of the new Millennium bold new plans were made for the upgrading of the Common Good property at Lanark Racecourse. As usual user groups were consulted to see what their wish lists were and assurances given that they would have all their ideas considered.

Three all weather pitches were to be built - and changing rooms too. Equestrian users were to be accommodated as would an upgraded area for the aero modellers. Dog walkers would also to be given a custom made area. The stands would need to go and this meant the death of horse racing and the track. As expected, this caused an outcry from some areas, led by Lord Cornet David Hughes. What SLC did not realise at the time that many people were members of more than one group. They discovered that each meeting was presented slightly differently depending on the group attending!

Some had heard of “spin” by politicians and now they were experiencing it.

SLC got its way, demolished the stands, and as an afterthought put up a single all weather pitch and a cabin changing room.

Perhaps all along they wanted the place clear for Lanark Grammar School to be relocated to.

The Racecourse is now a shadow of what it was and even less of a shadow compared to the impressive promises made. Now administered by SLLC Ltd, local football clubs still use the grass pitches next to Hyndford Road, but not in the summer; they could damage the grass! It allows the area to be freed up for hire to caravan rallies, dog shows, medieval fayres - and even the occasional Gypsy Wedding!

3. The Murray Chapel

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This building at St Kentigern’s Graveyard was gifted to the people of the town to be a place where small services could be held for people of all faiths and none.

SLC inherited it and are guilty of yet another example of talking up a project then unloading it to some group to deal with. The Council claims that repairs to the Murray Chapel will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and they have no money to do it all. A previous quote 10 years ago was tens of thousands but no action was taken.

Now a Trust has been created with the Community Council, SLC, Lanark Grammar School and the Community Development Trust.

The plan is to turn the Murray Chapel into a resource centre where people could gain information about the graveyard and those who rest there.

They are trying to get grant aid funding SLC alone could not get (why?) and the whole thing seems to have gone quiet. Is this going to be another building that will end up with a similar fate of Lanark Grammar School in Albany Drive?

4. The Big Shed

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This idea has been kicking about for over 20 years. Lanark is lucky to have so many busy voluntary organisations who own no premises but need places to build or store stuff including the Lanimer Lorry builders, Lanark Panto scenery builders, Lanark Museum Trust and many more.

If a large agricultural shed could be built on some Common Good Ground, and organised by the users, what a boom and encouragement that would be!

The Community Development Trust decided to investigate this about 10 years ago when it was formed. It was to be a fairly easy idea to sell and it would get them off the ground. After three years they managed to open a bank account then received a Grant to allow the project to be “worked up” properly. The consultation was inconclusive and nothing happened.  They have now revisited this again using the Lanimer Committee as a partner.

Great talking this time managed to attract enough signatures to take it forward and allow yet another Grant to be applied for to “work up the project”! Since then all has gone quiet.  Will those that signed up their support get any feedback soon?

5. The Wooden Auction Ring and the Retail Park

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When SLC gave Planning Permission to County Properties to build a Retail Park at the old Auction Market, one condition made and agreed was that the Wooden Auction Ring due to be dismantled would have to be replaced prior to any retail units being open for trading. This never happened to the surprise of those in the Burgh interested in maintaining our heritage. Years of writing to the Planners produced the same answer. It was difficult for County Properties to identify an end user and times were hard. The Planners would be keeping an eye on things. In the meantime no enforcement would take place against County Properties.

After 10 years the enforcement cannot be made and County Properties are off the hook. Once again a case of leaving a problem and hoping it goes away.

The whole thing is a bit of a mystery and exactly why SLC are being so kind. This has been a subject for discussion from day one. Inevitably conspiracy theories abound. I leave you to speculate what these theories are and who might be involved.

Why are the local Councillors allowing the wooden Auction Ring to probably disappear before Christmas? What about the Councillors who were in office at the time? We know where you are and about your silence in private and at your Town Centre Forum meetings (also in private). This too is also concerning. Can something be done now before it is too late?

6. Lanark shopkeepers open for business

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The Business Group appears to be coming up with lots of new ideas to attract people to stop and shop in Lanark. They have created some good publicity for themselves and have decided on things like a grand slide down the High Street!

One thing that is a concern is the lack of progress in getting people to shop in the town. SLC are responsible for car parking and the provision of more car parks in the town centre is up to them. This needs more than just better signage. SLC have held things up by undertaking an investigation into car parking spaces in the town. Why this has taken so long is beggers belief! It is a bit like asking a householder how many working televisions he has in his house and waiting six months for the investigation to come up with the answer! Worse still is when the answer provided is confusing and misses the point. SLC should be able to ascertain how many extra spaces could be provided.

The retailers must also do their bit. On Easter Monday traffic was queued from the Braes to the top of the High Street as people flocked to our town. The traffic lights timing is such that few cars per minute can get through. This gives drivers and passengers ample time to see what the High Street has to offer. If the answer is lots of closed shops, why will they stop? As usual Biggar, Peebles and New Lanark beckon. Either you do not need the business, or you cannot be bothered! We all know the speciality shops attract visitors. No one will come from Hamilton to shop in a multiple yet most of these were open on the Monday! All these meetings and you are still closing on public holidays! Why cannot the independent shops all agree to open on public holidays? I mean all of them?

Where are you anyway? Shopping somewhere else? I could not shop in Lanark last Monday because what I was looking for was shut. I did so later on in the week. Luckily I finished work and returned to Lanark before 5pm.

7. The Burgh Steeple at the Cross sporting its Celtic top

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St Nicholas Church and the Burgh Steeple at the Cross used to show off its attractive stonework. When it was refurbished the decision was taken to paint the whole lot an almost white render. It looked very impressive and the Rev John Thompson at the time gave it his approval.

Many more practical Lanarkians had their doubts. “All that money and how long will it stay like that?” 

“Who would send out a child to play in a white suit and expect it to come back clean?”

They were right and the steeple had to be redone at more expense! Green algie returned again last year and more repainting is planned. SLC switched ownership of the Steeple from the Council to the Common Good so this continual repainting comes out our pocket money. Who was responsible for this series of expensive errors and when will the experts admit they were wrong and help pay to return it to the way it used to be? SLC take charge of this.

When will they come up with a solution to stop throwing away our good money after bad?

8. Waiting time for an appointment at the Lanark Doctors

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Another area of concern that continues to be unresolved is where the people of Lanark feel they are waiting too long to get appointments to see a Doctor at Lanark Health Centre. Waiting three weeks is much longer than it used to be. There are two possible reasons for this.

One is that more of us are not having our health looked after well enough and this accounts for more requests for help from the Doctor.

A second is that Doctors are working less hard in Lanark. I favour the second reason.

Ever since the Labour Party when in office gave an unbelievable deal to the Doctors, thing have become much worse.

Doctors no longer had to work at weekends. NHS 24 was what the public had to use, or nip down to A&E at Wishaw General.

Doctors were now so well off they could now afford to work part time and there was a reluctance to top up these missing hours from the practice budget! So we wait longer.

Our Out of Hours Centre used to be manned by Doctors who were paid extra to man this useful service. But why give up a weekend when you don’t need the money? The result is the Out of Hours do not have enough Doctors to keep the Lanark Out of Hours open. Doctors have been reallocated to Wishaw General so now you travel out of hours from Lanark to Wishaw and sometimes end up with a Lanark Doctor earning lots of extra money treating you if you are lucky enough to get there in the first place!

Lots of concern has been expressed over this for at least a year. Has anything been resolved?

9. Ambulance attendance times

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This became an issue seven or eight years ago. An emergency call for an ambulance in Lanark was taking far longer to arrive than was the accepted norm.

Lanark used to have ambulances based in Lanark in what was at Cox’s Garage. They gave a great service, but were eventually relocated to Law Hospital. It was still possible to deal with a call to Lanark within 12 minutes.

Law Hospital closed and it was relocated to Wishaw. Response times to Lanark were a concern and very often we relied on the ambulance from Biggar to respond here. This took longer, and a plea was made to have a rapid response vehicle based in Lanark to get round this problem.

The Fire Station was identified as a possible base, but for some unknown reason the plan never worked. It seems there is some rivalry between the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service but that is only a rumour.
Does anyone care about the response times of ambulances in an emergency? Whose job is it to police it and when was it last done?

10.  Castlebank Park

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Finally something that is finally working! For another 20 years or more a campaign has run to get the local Council to do something about the decline of Castlebank Park; owned by the local authority. Year after year it was getting worse and worse and the public were really upset and began to turn its back on it.

Friends of Castlebank was formed in conjunction with Clydesdale District Council and hard as they tried, maintenance by the Council was never nearly enough.

When SLC took over things became worse. Friends of Castlebank fell away and eventually pressure from the Community Council and the Town Centre Forum, a Committee was formed to, you have guessed it, get a grant to get funding to “Work up a proposal” to get Lottery Funding the Council could not get (why?).

This time Phase 1 was approved and those involved were even commended in the Scottish Parliament!

The Council had to commit to the second phase and this they failed to do! The money was lost!

The Committee wanted to carry on its own but they were told to continue under the Town Centre Forum! Next came a guarantee the Park would be included two years later in the capital budget.

Two years on those who made the promise had gone and the available money was less that needed but it was better than nothing.

This time control was given to the locals and volunteers who have managed an outstanding improvement over the last two years. Visitor numbers have increased dramatically and the vision is gradually being realised.

The group now need SLC to give them the rest of the buildings to complete the phase of the project. Again heels are being dragged thanks to  SLC legal department! Hurry up and let things get going!

I hope these 10 items show how frustrating it must be for keen volunteers to continue to be held back, frustrated, ignored, and patronised by a Council and other authorities who know little about our town, what we need and what we would like.

A major problem is the culture of the Council itself. It is elected by us and those Councillors should be able to shape policy and budgets to address the needs of those who elected them.

They do not to appear to have that power. Officials now run the Council with the Inner Council. The rest turn up and toe the party line.

These Councillors did not put that situation in place. They inherited it. They are good people, mean well, but have no power. They are reduced to “nodding dugs”.

Until we get more power over our destiny we will be at the mercy of a politically run blinkered set up that do not know just how much harm they are doing.

I hope I am proved wrong by Christmas!