Causeway Coast and Glens councillors approved the required additional resource of up to £20k to deliver an Outline Business Case (OBC) for the redevelopment of Coleraine Leisure Centre.
The recommendation was welcomed with DUP Alderman George Duddy describing it as ‘a long time coming’.
Coleraine Leisure Centre opened in 1981 following the refurbishment and extension of the existing swimming pool on the site, which had been operational since 1969. The centre provides leisure opportunities for around 59,000 residents in Coleraine, Portrush, Portstewart and outlying areas.
UUP Alderman Joan Baird said the centre was ‘one of the most outdated, if not the worst in the Province.’
The Coleraine area currently ranks 18th out of the 26 legacy boroughs for the provision of sports hall facilities and ranks 10th in terms of swimming pool provision.
The report brought forward by council officers informed members of the Leisure and Development Committee that the annual estates costs for repair and maintenance for CLC have doubled over the past five years to around £50k per year.
The indicative delivery timeframe to progress the project through council’s four stage capital process estimates the construction will be completed in March 2025 with the leisure centre ‘ready for use’ in April 2025.
Welcoming the report, Alderman George Duddy said: “Prior to the inception of this council there were long discussions in regards to a new site for Coleraine Leisure Centre and a rebuild and it seems to be almost going round in a full circle and it’s a circle we can no longer afford to continue.
“The time frame seems to be getting ever so slightly longer and there is no doubt costs will continue to increase significantly if we continue to delay this project any longer.
“The leisure centre which we have at the moment is long past its best. The staff do their best to keep it operational and it’s not easy and it’s costly.
“We have an understanding of some of those costs and to continue to pay those costs for a building that is long past its best is money that is poorly spent.”
Proposing the recommendation to approve the required additional resource of up to £20k to deliver an Outline Business Case, Alderman Duddy asked if it was feasible to have the time frame shortened and the target date reduced.
Council officer Wendy McCullough responded to the councillor saying she ‘can’t promise anything’.
“It all depends on what else we stop doing,” explained Ms McCullough. “If we were able to devote all of our time and had nothing else to do I would hope we could shorten that time frame.
“I would also like to see a new leisure centre sooner rather than later.”
Richard Baker, Director of Leisure and Development added: “We do fully support the need to expedite this project as quickly as possible.
“Resources can be made available to focus in on this project. If the Finance Director was sitting here now what Mark would be saying is that Stage 3 is entirely dependent on the affordability within the capital development programme and at this moment at time sitting in 2021 looking forward to potentially two or three years down the line to commence construction, I would say, the key consideration for this project is affordability and where do we find £15m to progress into construction.”
DUP Councillor Aaron Callan seconded the proposal saying ‘the greatest need in our borough will be around this leisure centre.’
“Affordability and how we pay for this will be the biggest question for this project,” he added. “It’s prudent that we make a path forward.
“This is an important facility and it’s important we invest in this.”
Mayor, UUP Councillor Richard Holmes, although happy to support the proposal said ‘an element of realism was still needed’ adding that ‘a few difficult conversations would need to be had between now and the next stage of the process.’
Alderman Joan Baird described Coleraine Leisure Centre as a ‘disgrace’ and ‘very old fashioned’ before comparing it to other councils.
“When we look at our neighbours in Derry/Londonderry and we see the wonderful pool which is adjacent to the Foyle Arena which is state of the art, so it’s time we moved on quickly with this project.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Cara McShane agreed it was ‘great to see this progressing’, however, the Glens DEA councillor drew attention to the provision of leisure facilities in Ballycastle.
“It’s great to keep investing in our facilities if we have an infinite budget but in Ballycastle, the last I heard the Sheskburn site has become a habitat for bats so I think that shows how little investment has been put into that structure and what we are doing in terms of indoor leisure facilities in Ballycastle which still, a number of years later, has not progressed with the swimming pool.”
Vice Chair of the committee, PUP Councillor Russel Watton brought the debate to a close saying the facilities are ‘well by its sell by date’ and a leisure centre is badly needed in this town.
All members agreed to proceed with the recommendation. The item will come up before full council for ratification on Tuesday, September 7.