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Candidates Comment On Possibility Of New Newcastle Leisure Centre Being Located In Donard Park
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IN a Letter to the Editor, Sinn Féin South Down MLA Councillor Willie Clarke has set out his party’s position over the provision of a new leisure centre for Donard Park in Newcastle. On his heels, SDLP Down District Councillor Carmel O’Boyle  has responded stating the SDLP position on a Newcastle Leisure Centre. These are the issues that will decide the winners and losers of the South Down Assembly and Down District Council elections.

The issues are complex, and they will certainly arise again in the next Down District Council chamber… with whoever is elected from across the district.

Sinn Féin’s Willie Clarke MLA On Newcastle Leisure Facilities

A chara,

I wish to reiterate Sinn Féin’s position on the provision of leisure facilities in Newcastle.

Clearly there is significant community support for the building of a leisure centre and swimming pool complex in Donard Park and the people of Newcastle have waited long enough for this much needed facility.

My focus is to have a modern sports complex that is affordable for everyone and an asset to be enjoyed by people of all ages. We will not be part of any procee that delays and jeopardises this development, particularly as Down District Council are in the process of identifying procurement methods that will allow us to build a fit for purpose leisure infrastructure in all of our main towns. Newcastle can be first in availing of this opportunity because all of the discussions with statutory bodies have taken place through the PAD process.

The St Mary’s PS site has the potential to progress various projects and in the medium to long term I would support a partnership approach to developing the site but not at the risk of delaying the construction of a new leisure complex in Donard Park.

The question has to be asked – why are the SDLP and their cheerleaders prepared to delay this vital project by years and possibly indefinitely?

The remarks made by Cllr Carmel O Boyle on this matter illustrates her lack of credibility. Her Jekyll and Hyde type tendency to adopt contradictory positions on this issue make little or sense – one week she wants a leisure centre in Donard Park, the next week she opposes the scheme.

Moreover, I fully appreciate the environmental value of Donard Park – I was raised near this vital amenity; played football on its pitches and take regular walks through the park. I will not be lectured on its value and importance as a green space area in the centre of our town.

Last week’s letters expressing opposition to Donard Park as a venue for a leisure centre ignored a key fact – the current poor condition of the Newcastle Centre and the dearth of affordable leisure facilities in the town that are simply not fit for purpose. Indeed, the Newcastle Centre falls well short in terms of best practice, particularly in regards to disabled access and considerable investment is required for it to meet current legislative requirements.

To conclude then, Sinn Féin is determined to secure a modern leisure centre and public swimming pool that has modern, affordable facilities. Groups such as Newcastle 2000, who have worked for years on this issue, support Sinn Féin’s position and the time for equivocation and empty rhetoric on this issue is at an end.

Is mise le meas,

Cllr Willie Clarke, MLA
South Down Sinn Féin

Response from SDLP Councillor Carmel O’Boyle

Dear Editor,

By claiming that they are determined to secure a leisure centre and swimming pool for Newcastle, Sinn Fein fail to mention that the decision about what is provided in Newcastle, and where it is to go, is not within their gift alone.

Decision makers across our district comprise representatives from every political party, and we are not only advised by officers and other experts, but we take pride in the consultation measures we have put in place to involve communities who will be affected by these decisions. Community planning is so important to the future development of Newcastle, and with the imminent provision of a leisure centre and swimming-pool, this is an opportunity to involve all the stake-holders who are entitled to have their say.

As people know, representatives from all political parties, not just Sinn Fein, are in the process of initiating long overdue regeneration work at the Harbour in Newcastle. However, decisions were made there in the past, without proper consultation that have impacted on what we are able to do in that area of the town now.

Is history to repeat itself now in Donard Park, or should we explore all the options before embarking on an irreversible path that may disinherit future generations of Newcastle people?  I repeat, there is no money to build a leisure centre anywhere in Newcastle at present, but while we are pursing possible opportunities, we should take advice, consult widely, and look at all the options.

Investigations into the pros and cons of the two sites at Donard Park are continuing right now. There will be no delay as a result of this – none. The school site may not be the more suitable of the two, as I have said, but we have a duty to consider it.

Elected representatives have responsibilities to present, but more importantly, future generations, which we must honour. One political party should not try to hoodwink the electorate into thinking they alone can provide something they cannot. Had the SDLP bowed to pressure from Sinn Fein, there would have been no Harry Ferguson Festival in Newcastle last summer.

If the SDLP bows to Sinn Fein pressure after these elections, there will be on-street car-parking charges in Newcastle. However, as history has shown, the SDLP considers what will be best in the long run for all of the people before any other consideration, and the location of the new leisure centre, which will indeed be built in Newcastle, will be no different.

There can only be one reason why Sinn Fein have chosen to whip up absolutely unnecessary hysteria at this time. Just like their show of strength on St Patrick’s Day in Downpatrick, this is a sham debate, fuelled by election fever.

Yours,

Cllr Carmel O’Boyle.