THE party is over, the A-list guests have fizzled out, the facilities are deemed

unsalvageable and the punters have been told to stop clinging onto faded memories.

Welcome to the future, welcome to the Portal.

Irvine’s new £20million leisure centre - the crowning jewel of the town’s latest re-boot - is finally set to open early next year.

The decision to close the beloved Magnum Leisure Centre was one of the most controversial in recent memory.

The Magnum had been starved of cash with the facilities that brought so many visitors to Irvine left to rot over the last decade or so.

But it has actually managed to see its 40th year thanks to the visceral public reaction and years of construction delays.

Eight years have passed since the Magnum was first tipped to close - and initially move to where the new Woodland View mental health hospital sits.

Proposals were even put forward to shut the Magnum and leave Irvine without any facilities! 

Irvine Times:

Quarry Road was also earmarked - and agreed in principle - but that plan too was eventually scrapped.

But in 2011 it was decided that NAC, alongside Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, would forge ahead with major regeneration of Irvine town centre - including proposals for a multi-million pound leisure centre adjacent to the new leisure centre.

The Labour-led North Ayrshire Council severely slashed the funding of the Magnum in the early 2000s.

Big names still performed now and then but nowhere near the same level as it used to.

It was the ice-rink, the swimming pool, Mighty/Mini Monsters, the bowls and other key facilities, however, that kept the centre alive.

Those too were neglected and many of the facilities eventually closed as the council prepared for a new era.

Much wrangling continued after Labour were succeeded by the SNP.
The new administration decided to continue with the plans their political rivals had devised - despite the already overwhelmingly negative public reaction.

From 2012 onwards, the Save the Magnum campaign officially launched where Irvine residents voiced their serious concerns about parking and the loss of history from Irvine.

The new proposals saw the demolition of the old Annick Community Centre and shutting the historic Jail Close.

And in 2013, Councillor Matthew Brown was given the casting vote to approve the new leisure centre and close the Magnum for good.

He opted to pull the trigger and look to the future.

A furious public backlash followed with observers, including then-MP Brian Donohoe, saying the campaigners had left it too late to make a difference.

Councillor Marie Burns was part of the SNP administration throughout the planning for the new Portal Leisure Centre (the name was devised after a series of meetings with Irvine residents).

She revealed that she was upset at the furious reaction - and allegations of corruption - but now believes people have moved on from the debacle.

“From my perspective, I wasn’t a councillor when the decision was taken but we realised something needed to be done because there were health and safety issues with the Magnum,” Councillor Burns said.

Irvine Times:

“It would have taken such an extensive refurbishment, the advice we were getting at the time that town centres was where main leisure was going to be.

“We did have a look at it again, there was a vocal minority who weren’t happy with it.

“It would have been easy just to blame Labour but it wouldn’t have been right. We agreed the best thing to do was to continue but we got a lot of flak for it.”

She added: “There’s a sadness about it. I can understand people felt a lot of emotion and it’s hard putting it behind you.

“The criticism was very difficult to deal with. I was upset at some of the things being said like councillors receiving brown envelopes from developers which was just absolute nonsense.

“I think people have now moved on and are looking forward to the Portal opening.

“The issue has been put to bed now and soon people will start to take their kids there and feel affection for it.

“It’s never going to be the Magnum, it was never designed to be but it’ll be a great facility in the town centre and people will soon realise that.”

The grand plans for the Magnum’s successor did not impress many Irvine residents.

Press releases from the council and Irvine Bay boasted a 25m, six-lane pool, fitness suite, indoor sports halls and a venue capable of hosting weddings and other performances.

But that didn’t sit well with a number of people who claimed it wasn’t a scratch on the services offered by the Magnum - despite their increasing age.

Councillor Brown’s proverbial final nail in the Magnum should have marked the end of any chance of rescuing the centre from the scrapheap.

But the Save the Magnum campaign refused to go quietly.

Irvine Times:

Initially fronted by Gordon Bain from Irvine Action, the group continued to vigorously oppose the council’s decision.

“We just thought the money they were proposing could’ve been used to do revamp the Magnum,” said Ian Wallace, a key member of the campaign.

“Okay it’s an old building but so’s the Townhouse, there was a centre in England like the Magnum that people fought to have done up and now it’s booming.

“Things are changing now, more people are holidaying at home, when there’s good weather the beach packed so can you imagine the trade the Magnum would get if there was investment?”

He added: “The Magnum will be a big loss, people won’t be used to it not being there.

“I’ve no doubt it’ll be okay, if you can get parked, but for older people it will be not a patch on the Magnum.”

A complaint was lodged in late 2013 in respect of Jail Close - an ancient thoroughfare adjacent to the Townhouse - on the grounds it was a right of way.

Irvine Times:

They were successful and dramatically derailed the project leading to then-Council Leader Willie Gibson blasting them as “blinkered individuals”.

A public inquiry was held in June 2014 which went in their favour, causing a redesign of the plans to accommodate the path.

That would prove to be their only major victory, however, as the group eventually fizzled out once construction began on the Portal.

Ian continued: “There are standards that have to be met and we wanted to make sure it was kept open, Bank Street was a mess and it was also to maintain the historical design.

“We now want a plaque of historical significance for Jail Close saying ‘saved by the people, for the people’.

“Hopefully what we’re seeing now with the Quarry Road development is that people can have an influence, okay we didn’t win but if communities come together they can influence decisions.

“People will think the Portal will be the best thing since sliced bread - the traffic’s a nightmare and the thing’s not even opened - but I think they’ve missed an opportunity.”

For the last five years, Irvine town centre has been a permanent construction site.

Irvine Times:

Although many don’t agree with the details, £30million has still been pumped into the town which could have went to other areas.

The Magnum is a quintessential case of only missing something until it’s gone.

Visitor numbers shot up once its closure was sealed and KA Leisure even invested in a new 3G football pitch.

Quarry Road - once touted as the ‘new Magnum’ site - could soon see its own new sports facilities with an indoor football arena and cinema also.

The memories and joy it brought to a generation of people makes the Magnum irreplaceable.

Cultural history was made during a truly golden age, the likes of which Irvine may never see again.

But while we pay our respects to the Magnum, it’s now time to look forward to the Portal. 

A new generation of youngsters who will have never used the Magnum now have the chance to learn to swim, meet new pals and create memories akin to those experienced by Magnum devotees.

The final chapter will soon close on perhaps Irvine’s greatest modern success story.

Exactly like 1976, a new era will dawn once the Portal is opened.

Who knows? Perhaps in 40 years we’ll be fighting to save it from closing too!