Recently there’s been some consternation among Leithers when it became clear that Edinburgh Leisure and the City of Edinburgh Council had quietly decided between them to withdraw putting from Leith Links.
In a blog post on the Leith Links Community Council website last week, the Chair Jim Scanlon asked “Where have all the putting greens gone?” and noted that Edinburgh Leisure had removed any mention of the game from its website – suggesting that even at the historic “home of golf” there was little intention of bringing putting back to the park.
Jim said: “It may seem trivial but why remove it when they have to employ somebody to be there for the bowling and tennis so it can’t be down to cost savings? I suspect the main reason is they can’t be bothered.
“In good weather the putting has been well used by local office workers and residents so Edinburgh Leisure lets have it back please?
“We keep talking about making Leith Links a premier park but it’s still a poor relation to the city centre. Another example of you’ll have had your tea Leith,” he noted.
Greener Leith got in touch with Edinburgh Leisure to find out what was going on, and in an emailed statement an Edinburgh Leisure manager said that a counterpart at the council parks department had told Edinburgh Leisure as far back as April that: “as reported and approved by Council, maintenance on all greens not identified for bowling was being reduced in order to realise savings demanded by Council.”
According to Edinburgh Leisure, the council officer said that “discussions during the consultation process had not identified any future need or demand for retaining putting on the bowling greens.”
The Edinburgh Leisure manager added: “As regards Leith Links, the holes do appear to still be in situ but as the green is not being maintained as a putting green there are no cups in place and the grass currently looks to be in a poor state. The flags are still in the building, and the attendant on site did put them out on a couple of occasions, but with the grass being in such poor condition we felt it was better not to offer a substandard experience.”
Now the odd thing is, if you actually read the last council report on Bowling Greens, which councillors considered in January, its really not clear that councillors agreed to cut putting on Leith Links at all.
Firstly, the report presented “draft” proposals for the future of each site, and claimed a further report with final proposals would be forthcoming, but to date no further report has been considered by the Transport and Environment Committee.
The draft proposals for Leith Links were as follows: “Leith Links: Implement Leith Links Tennis and Petanque Project, which will leave three greens. A subsequent proposal has been received from the Scottish Volleyball Association to convert one of the remaining greens into a beach volleyball court. Victoria Park, Balgreen and Powderhall would also be considered for this use.”
We covered the proposals to convert one of the greens to a beach volleyball court on this blog at the time. Clearly there is no mention of withdrawing putting on Leith Links in the main body of the report.
But the January report also contains some detail of consultation undertaken prior to the “draft proposals” in the appendices. They set out what locals did agree to. It says: “There is currently a proposal, Leith Links Tennis and Petanque Project Edinburgh which has been drawn up in conjunction with the Leith Links Steering Group (made up of representatives from Greener Leith, Local Councillors, representatives from local sporting groups and officers from Parks and Greenspace, North and Central Neighbourhood Teams).
“This project would involve reducing the bowling greens from four to two (retaining greens C&D) and offering in place a putting green (green B) and three courts and a petanque area (green A). This project has been approved in principal and is awaiting the results of a funding bid to Sportscotland.”
According to our records the Leith Links Steering Group has not been consulted since on any proposals to remove the putting from Leith Links either, whilst at the December meeting of the group the minutes record that “local expressed concern at losing the putting,” if one of the four bowling greens were to be converted into a beach volleyball court.
So there you have it. Councillors did not specifically agree to withdraw putting from Leith Links and when locals were consulted on it records show they did not want to lose the putting greens.
Why does it matter?
Well, as Jim says, the greens are popular in good weather. All the equipment is still there, even the holes, and the building is staffed during the summer, so for a start the cost savings must be fairly minimal in the wider scheme of things.
But also, the key to a successful park is having a broad diversity of things to do. Having an area where people can try putting, bowls, tennis and Petanque all in once place will help the park appeal to a broad range of users and increase the chances of people getting out and active in the park.
Perhaps most importantly, if Leith Links is to be marketed as the “home of golf,” and a statue erected to make more of this, surely it makes sense to give visitors a chance to pick up a putter and give it a shot? It’s hard to imagine that demand would go down after the John Rattray statue finds a home on the Links
Projects such as our Leith Links Children’s Orchard have already helped to cut the maintenance bill for the council, as it took a huge area of grass out of the regular park mowing cycle. If further maintenance cuts are necessary on Leith Links, council officers could consult with park users on which areas could be left to grow longer, rather than trying to push cuts through without public discussion.
We’re pretty sure that, if asked, most people would not agree to letting a putting green go, simply because when officials did ask, locals said no. So why is it happening anyway?