THE proposal by Down District Council to set up Ireland’s first velodrome on the outskirts of Downpatrick has received a death blow by a tersely worded letter from Sport NI.
The Sport NI chief executive Eamonn McCartan was the messenger who scuppered hopes of the district benefiting from Olympic and Commonwealth games in the future. Sport NI has pulled four projects proposals altogether as funding has evaporated as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review. On Monday evening at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting of Down District Council, there was anger and disbelief that this plan had been shelved. The letter had arrived from Sport NI on Monday brining the bad news.
The Inch Abbey Road farm site that was earmarked for development is now still up for sale.
There was concern too among the councillors that after around four years of trying to develop this project that in access of £50,000 has been spent of ratepayers money in consultancy fees and other costs. Plans are now afoot by the Council to recoup the monies spent front the ever shrinking pockets in the Stormont public purse.
Council officials were devastated at the Sport NI decision. The Velodrome itself with the extensive leisure centre facilties would have attracted visitors from across Ireland and it was hoped that the Irish cycling squad would have trained in the new facility. In December there was concern at the stalling of the project by Sport NI in not responding to an earlier request from the Council to expedite the process.
Plans will now have to be put in place to develop an alternative leisure centre complex in the Downpatrick area. Work on the velodrome was expected to begin in a year’s time, and now a new site will have to be identified and a development plan prepared.
A spokesperson for Down District Council said, “Down District Council has been advised formally by Sport NI’s Chief Executive, Mr Eamonn McCartan, that it’s £26M bid to build Ireland’s only Velodrome, has fallen victim to the budget cuts in the Stormont Assembly. Council officers broke the news to councillors at a meeting of the Policy and Resources committee on Monday evening.
Four other projects around Northern Ireland have also been given the bad news that their project has no funding to allow it to proceed. Councillors and Officers have expressed their disappointment at the announcement, which stops not only the Velodrome , but the Council’s plans for the replacement of the 30 year old Down Leisure Centre are now back to the drawing board.
“Council members were also expressing deep concern at the amount of effort officers have expended in pursuit of the project, which commenced in July 2006. They were also adamant that money spent in the preparation of the bid be recouped and instructed officers to examine what legal redress was possible”.
Green Party Councillor Cadogan Enright said, “I was never happy with the location of this project from the beginning on an environmentally sensitive site. Now we will have to move on and develop another site and deliver on a new leisure centre for the Downpatrick area.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Eamonn Mac Con Midhe proposed at the meeting that the matter be forwarded to the attention of the OFMDM bypassing the DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland who he said had “built us up and let us down”. He added, “I feel disgusted at this treatment. Our expectations were allowed to rise and we spent a considerable amount of ratepayers money on the back of this. This was meant to be an All-Ireland level project and now it is lost.”
DUP Councillor Billy Walker said, “I am extremely disappointed and angered at this decision by Sport NI. We were led to believe that finding was ringfenced. There were two projects for Northern Ireland in the Olympics development programme… a swimming pool in Bangor now moving ahead and a velodrome which councils were bidding on.
“It is a credit to our hard working officials and directors that the project came through all of the stages. I think we should take legal action to recoup the funds we have lost. We are back to square one again. This has set us back four years. I felt that the site was ideal as it was close to Downpatroick and would not add to its traffic problems.”
SDLP Councillor John Doris said he was shocked at the decision. “All along we were encouraged to proceed into the application and led to believe the funding was in place. I just don’t know where the funding has disappeared to. We have asked the Council officers to pursue this and find out what is happening. The benefit of the velodrome project was that we could build a leisure centre adjacent to it at a lower cost than had we built one on its own.”
UUP Councillor Robert Burgess, “My party is absolutely astounded and very disappointed at the response from Sports NI. This matter has been referred to the Assembly and the OFMDM.We haven’t totally given up yet quite yet. It was our clear understanding that funding had been set aside for this velodrome. project. This funding has now been diverted elsewhere.”