Concern has been raised that grant funding to the project launched in memory of Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend Harry Gregg could set a precedent for council.
Councillors on Causeway Coast and Glens Leisure and Development committee agreed to approve a direct strategic investment of £15,000 in the Stage 1 feasibility study for the Harry Gregg Legacy Foundation leading one councillor to say he ‘was worried about the whole project’.
Last month the committee received a presentation by the Harry Gregg Legacy Foundation detailing their plans for an exciting ‘first of its kind in Northern Ireland’ project, which they estimate will require capital investment of between £6 and £10million.
They want to establish a Coleraine Youth Sport Zone, providing world class facilities under one roof. Members were informed that Youth Sport Zones in England currently operating can cost around £1m per year to run, with £600,000 coming from local businesses.
At that meeting the group requested £50,000 funding from the council to help cover three stages of the project with the first stage, the feasibility study, costing £15,000.
Richard Baker, Director for Leisure & Development explained to Members they had three options – do nothing at all, develop a new technical support grant programme or make a direct strategic investment.
‘Gingerly’ proposing to accept Option Three, DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan said: “I wouldn’t be keen on the whole project overall but we have to give it its legs at least.”
He said: “Whilst I agree with Option 3, does it leave ourselves open for other groups to come in looking the same process?”
Mr Baker responded; “Undoubtedly yes. We are without doubt setting a precedent for other groups to come forward and request money through a similar process and that is a clear consequence of us funding the Harry Gregg Foundation in this manner.”
Councillor McQuillan continued: “I’m sort of worried about the whole project, when I heard how much it was costing to run it per year. They seem to be going round and round looking for money here, there and everywhere, and have got nothing and they are coming back to council looking for it. I suppose we are soft touches. If we don’t deliver on it, we’re the worst in the world and if we do, we’re still the worst in the world.”
Seconding the proposal Councillor Aaron Callan agreed with his party colleague saying: “At times we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t with certain projects. I think this has the potential to be a very exciting project for the area if it does come to fruition.
“If it develops it could be linked to the Coleraine Football Club project, it could be a great addition for the Coleraine area and for the Borough.
“This support will help enable them to see if the feasibility study actually does stack up. The query as to whether it would create a precedent or not, it will be very interesting to see if there are many other projects like this out in the Borough.”
DUP Councillor Michelle Knight McQuillan told Members ‘we have to bear in mind what this could bring to the youth of the area in terms of youth provision’.
Sinn Féin councillor Sean Bateson proposed an amendment that council award the £15,000 funding but explore the establishment of a technical support grant programme for future use.
“I do think this project could be absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I would want to make an amendment to this that we go with Option Three but we also look at Option Two going into the future and into next financial year and develop a new technical support grant.
“This is the home for projects like this, so I do think we have to be looking down the line with regards to the potential of the Harry Gregg project, the Coleraine project and any other massive projects that come looking for funding.
“We can bury our head in the sand at the moment and just give out £15,000 and worry about it down the line but for the next financial year going forward we need to be looking at technical grant support.”
Councillor Bateson’s amended motion passed by 10 votes to 4.