Campaigners were celebrating last night after Moray’s only ice rink was saved from closure at the 11th hour.
Councillors voted to buy a new cooling system for the Elgin venue and ended months of worry for curlers, skaters and ice hockey players.
The decision was hailed by Paralympic bronze medallist Gregor Ewan – who had warned he would be forced to leave the area if he was left with nowhere to practice.
Jim Gault, a fellow member of the successful Team GB at the Sochi winter games in Russia – said he “shouted out with happiness” when he heard the news.
The rink at Moray Leisure Centre had been due to shut at the end of the year because of EU legislation outlawing the gas used in its cooling system.
Councillors considered whether the existing set-up could be converted to use an alternative gas.
But it was decided that the compromise option – which would have cost just £50,000 – was potentially fraught with difficulties as the current cooling equipment is already old and unreliable.
Councillors decided instead to back a motion tabled by Conservative member Douglas Ross to commit to installing a new ice plant.
The exact cost of the system has still to be finalised, but is expected to be between £250,000-£350,000 – half of which will be funded by SportsScotland.
Councillor Ross said after yesterday’s emergency meeting: “The overall message is that the ice rink’s future is guaranteed and the council has agreed an option for the ice plant which provides security for the long-term future of the facility.”
Mr Ewan, who is based in Elgin and trained for the Paralympics at the rink, said he was “relieved” by the councillors’ decision.
He added: “It’s a massive weight off my shoulders. If the rink had closed I’d have been left with no option but to leave the region.”
Mr Gault said the council had made the right decision.
“I shouted out with happiness when I heard the news,” he added.
“There are going to be a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces tonight.”
The news was also welcomed by Graeme Summers, chairman of Ice4All, a group made up of skaters, curlers and ice hockey players who regularly use the rink.
He said: “Thousands of people across Moray are going to very relieved about this.
“It has been 14 years since it was first announced that the gas would be outlawed – and yet this matter has come down to the last six months before an agreement has been reached.
“Every other ice rink in Scotland has made the change already without any difficulty.”
Yesterday’s motion from Mr Ross also called for a fresh look at how the leisure centre is run.
The council has subsidised the venue since it opened in 1993 – currently to the tune of £600,000 a year – but its day-to-day operation is the responsibility of Moray Leisure Ltd.
Councillor Barry Jarvis, who seconded the motion, said it was vital that the local authority worked with the Moray Leisure board to resolve ongoing differences and safeguard the centre’s long-term future.
“We need a proper agreement in place that reflects the aspirations of Moray and the capacity of that organisation to deliver them,” he said.
Several councillors demanded a greater say in how the leisure centre is run in return for the purchase the new ice plant.
However, council convener Stewart Cree stressed that arm’s length organisations such as Moray Leisure were legally independent of the council.
He said: “We can’t demand that things change. We have to negotiate in order to achieve a better working relationship.”
On the basis of cost per user, the leisure centre is one of the least expensive subsidised facilities in the region.
Drew Baillie, the chairman of Moray Leisure Ltd, said: “The leisure centre is and always has been run for the benefit of the people of Moray.
“It’s a charitable organisation and none of the directors are paid or receive expenses – quite the opposite, they give their time, effort and expertise for free.
“I’m delighted that the ice rink has been saved. I’m also very happy for the staff at the rink. It’s been a very difficult time for them, so I’m glad that their future has finally been resolved after so many delays.”