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Ballymena

MEA leisure centres stay shut

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Leisure Centres in Mid and East Antrim will stay shut until January 4, despite easing of Covid restrictions on Friday.

The decision was taken behind closed doors at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening.

Mid and East Antrim’s leisure centres closed in November following the announcement of a “circuit breaker” by the Northern Ireland Executive in response to the Covid pandemic.

Pools in Larne, Carrickfergus and Ballymena had already been closed due to “low demand and high running costs”.

Swimming clubs in Larne and Ballymena have reacted angrily to the “ongoing closure”.

Peter Hill, head coach of Larne Swimming Club, described the latest decision as “frustrating”.

Speaking online, Mr Hill said the pool in Larne will not be reopening in 2020.

“The earliest date they are thinking of reopening the pool is January 4. I will take that with a pinch of salt.

“Once again, we are left in a position where swimming pools can reopen from Friday. The swimming pool in Bangor is reopening from Friday but pools in MId and East Antrim are not. It is very frustrating.”

In a direct message to club members, he added: “Swimming in Ireland is still going on and I do not want you to lose too much ground,”

Pools in the Mid and East Antrim have been closed since October after only being open for a few weeks after lockdown.

Larne’s Olympic hopefuls have had to travel to Bangor to train.

Commenting on the decision, Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly said: “Our position on this issue is long-standing – we have consistently pushed for our leisure services and pools to be open for people to use safely when they are permitted to be open.

“We believe they are important public services that people rely on to be able to exercise.

“We are very disappointed with this outcome but we will continue to push for leisure services to be open when the scientific and medical advice permits it.

Meanwhile, Antrim and Newtownabbey is preparing to reopen its leisure centres of Friday in line with easing of Covid restrictions.

The council’s leisure facilities, including fitness suites, swimming pools, golf courses, driving ranges and the Antrim Stadium will be back in action.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Over recent weeks, Mid and East Antrim has regularly been among the Council areas with the highest confirmed cases of Covid-19.

“Tragically, over the past month, figures show 23 people have lost their lives in our Borough, which is a third of all deaths in our area since the outbreak of the virus. We have also had three clusters in this area in the past 10 days. Councillors are mindful the virus is very much active locally.

“Within this context and the fact that usage of our pools and gyms before the previous lockdown was very low, the decision to reopen leisure centres would be a very unbalanced one, just weeks before Christmas, when they would be closed again.

“The Christmas period, traditionally, sees the lowest usage of Council leisure facilities, including pools and gyms, and they can only open at the minute for individual training and no fitness classes or indoor sports can take place.”

The council says that the week before closure, the average pool use per hour in Larne was five, Carrickfergus, six and Ballymena, four.

Leisure centre gym use per hour in Larne was four, Carrickfergus, nine and Ballymena, two.

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