A DECISION to use money earmarked for extending a community space in Girvan to pay the salary of a South Ayrshire Council employee instead has sparked a heated debate among councillors.

Members of the local authority's audit and governance panel examined a decision by the council's cabinet to reallocate £50,000 which had been set aside to extend the space in Glendoune Road.

The panel heard that the adjacent property in Piedmont Road, which is to be used for the extension, is currently occupied on a temporary basis by the Girvan Attractions group.

In a report to the panel, Jamie Tait of SAC's Vibrant Communities team said that a number of alternative premises for Girvan Attractions had been assessed, but none were suitable for their needs.

He said that while the council was committed to the extension, it was felt more appropriate to use the money for the building to instead extend a senior 'Girvan community officer' post for a further year.

SNP councillor George Weir was one of the councillors who called in the decision, claming that failing to establish the premises was a ‘step back from previous ambitions’.

Cllr Weir, who represents the Ayr West ward, asked if there was a legal requirement to accommodate Girvan Attractions.

He continued: “Is there an assurance that, without the intended access to local accommodation, the continuation of the community officer will achieve equally good results in the coming 12 months?”

Cllr Weir also questioned the council’s claim that the move did not mark a change in policy or strategy and failed to carry out an options appraisal.

Mr Tait said the service was committed to developing the space alongside securing alternative accommodation.

He added that he would be looking other potential funding sources, including the UK government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.

Councillor Brian McGinley (Labour, Ayr East) said that it was important to separate the two elements to avoid confusion.

He indicated that, had the council been able to progress the community space, there would still have been a need to find funding to extend the officer post.

Cllr McGinley asked why it was proving difficult to move Girvan Attractions from the property given it was a temporary lease.

Cllr Alec Clark (Independent, Girvan and South Carrick), representing the cabinet, said that the council had a good relationship with Girvan Attractions, and felt that it would be better to avoid being seen as ‘heavy handed’ by handing the group a notice to leave the premises.

Jane Bradley, SAC's director of strategic change and communities, said Girvan Attractions stored thousands of pounds worth of equipment at the site, and that security and location issues at other properties had rendered them unsuitable.

She also said that a wider review of the council's properties and land was ongoing, and said it would be more practical to include the search for an alternative base for Girvan Attractions in that review.

The panel agreed to accept the cabinet’s decision.