SOUTH Ayrshire Council "must learn" from its failed bids to the UK Government's Levelling Up Fund to make sure it isn't knocked back again.

That's the plea from one senior councillor in the area - as he sought clarity from officials over whether the decision to scrap the £45m project for the former Hourston's and Arran Mall site in the town centre was the reason for the council's application being turned down.

The call came from Conservative councillor Bob Pollock, the local authority's portfolio holder for economic development.

The council's Conservative-led administration said on taking power after the May 2022 local government elections that it would drop the plan for a new facility and focus instead on refurbishing the Citadel Leisure Centre.

The new centre was one of three South Ayrshire bids to the fund, with the authority seeking a total of £20m.

But the bid was submitted last summer before the final decision was formally made to scrap the project and retain the Citadel.

The administration says it submitted the bid which had been developed by the previous SNP/Labour administration, which had been for a leisure development in general terms, not for the specific project at the Arran Mall/Hourston's site.

At the time, then Labour group leader Councillor Brian McGinley had previously claimed  that the Levelling Up bid would fail because the leisure centre project had been scrapped by the Conservative administration.

The cost of refurbishing the Citadel Leisure Centre had been questioned, with opposition councillors claiming it would be greater than the allocation of £10m.

Councillor Pollock asked chief executive Eileen Howat which administration had developed and submitted the Levelling Up bid for the leisure development.

She replied that the development of the bids had been approved by the SNP/Labour administration, with the current one only approving the final submission.

Asked why the bids failed, Ms Howat provided the feedback received from the UK Government.

In terms of the leisure development, she said: “Elements of this bid were good, particularly around the strategic fit and economic case.

“However, there were some areas of weakness which could be strengthened.

“These include provision of a detailed cost plan and additional clarity on the approach to governance and the level of resources committed to delivery.”

Cllr Pollock asked how accurate Cllr McGinley’s claims were about the level of resource needed to refurbish the Citadel.

Ms Howat replied: “An up-to-date conditions survey on the Citadel has been commissioned and this will inform planned repairs and maintenance works going forward.

“Officers from across a range of services have had initial meetings to look at potential redevelopment work that would greatly improve and enhance the existing facility.

“Initial design concepts have been considered and further work is now progressing with these proposals within the agreed financial envelope.”

SNP councillor Peter Henderson, who was leader of the SNP/Labour administration before last year's election, and was speaking at his final council meeting before stepping down for health reasons, took exception to the questions being asked by Cllr Pollock,  arguing that he could have approached officers for answers, and claimed it was "wasting time".

Councillor Pollock asked Ms Howat: “What steps are now being taken to address any of the concerns identified in the bids put in?

“How do we make sure we don’t repeat these mistakes in any bids going forward.”

Ms Howat replied: “Obviously we will take on board comments that have been made and any other advice from anyone who has been successful, to ensure the next round of bids have the greatest chance of being accepted.”