THE issue around the site of a replacement Newcastle Leisure Centre has been hotly debated in recent months by local councillors and political parties in the Council chamber and in the media. Is the time now fast approaching for critical decisions to be made to ensure that the new leisure facility is finally secured?
Sinn Féin Newcastle Councillor Willie Clarke explained to Down News that he believes hard decisions based on what is realistic and achievable with regard to leisure facilities in Newcastle will now have to be made otherwise he maintains the town could lose out on its proposed Health and Leisure complex.
Councillor Clarke, who was speaking ahead of a Council Building and Estates meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the issue of carrying out maintenance to the rear of the current leisure centre, said: “Any refurbishment of the Newcastle Centre, is a waste of ratepayers hard earned money. Down District Council are recommending spending over £200,000 to allow the rear of the building to remain open, these repairs include £74,000 for repairs on the roof, £20.000 for a new disabled lift and £12.700 for cladding.
“Sinn Féin do not support this approach by Council and will be proposing that Council investigate decanting the services currently provided in the rear of the building to other suitable buildings in Newcastle and close the rear of the building.
“Work was carried out in 2009 to allow the services in the building to continue until a decision was made on the development of a new centre. This sticking plaster approach cannot be allowed to continue. If we carry out the maintenance to the building we will continue not be be focusing our minds and it will create a lack of urgency to build the new health and leisure centre,” added Councillor Clarke.
“As someone who grew up in Newcastle, I experienced first-hand the difficulties of not being able to avail of proper and affordable leisure facilities. It is a vitally important issue that I have made – it is a key priority since being first elected to the Council in 2001 and we have now reached a point in time where hard decisions will have to be made.
“I would like to pay tribute to the staff of the Newcastle Centre who provide a wonderful service on a very limit budget and in difficult circumstances. Their dedication and commitment has never been in doubt.”
As Down District Council approaches the Building Estates meeting this week, its annual general meeting on Monday 10 June, and the merger with Newry and Mourne Borough Council which is on the cards over the next year after an election for a ‘shadow council’ in 2014, will the Newcastle Leisure Centre issue have found a satisfactory resolution?
SDLP Councillor Carmel O’Boyle has been an keen advocate for a new centre in Newcastle and said: “The proposal I made at last week’s council meeting was that we will ask the members of the Voluntary Transition Committee, which will become the Statutory Transition Committee on 1July, to adopt the following resolution that :
“The Statutory Transition Committee should prioritise the inclusion of a new leisure centre for Newcastle within the Shared Affordable Capital Programme, and this investment should be one of the top priorities for the new Council.”
“There is no time limit on our Council deciding a site in Newcastle for the new leisure centre. Just because the Voluntary Transition Committee becomes Statutory on 1 July does not mean that we are going to turn into a pumpkin. This is scare-mongering of the worst kind and is a ploy to rush councillors into possibly making a bad decision in haste that they will repent at their leisure (no pun intended!). “
“Newry and Mourne councillors will support my proposal. Why would they not? And already, SDLP Councillor Connaire McGreevy has publicly supported this proposition.
“We are not likely to have a speedy resolution of this matter when the soil tests recently taken from Donard Park and the former St Mary’s Primary School site could show that there is contamination on either one or both sites. If this happens, there will be delays. If there is a Judicial Review there will be delays. So what does Councillor Clarke mean when he wants ‘hard decisions’? When my proposal is considered and adopted by the Voluntary Transition Committee on 25 June, the future of the Newcastle Leisure Centre will be secured. This ground-hog day panicking has to stop,” added Councillor O’Boyle.