Belfast leisure centres have run up a massive loss of £41m in the last five years despite more than £50m of ratepayers' cash being used to operate them.
Northern Ireland's biggest council has pumped more than £53m of public money into keeping the 11 facilities across the city open between 2002 and 2007, according to figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph.
However, not one of the centres has made a profit or come close to breaking even during that period. Now, it has emerged the council is examining the possibility of a public/private organisation to run the centres.
And politicians have hit out at the operational costs of keeping 11 centres — separated by the community divide — open.
Over five years, the centres have run up a huge deficit of more than £41m after making an income of just £12m. On average £10.6m has been invested into leisure centres each year since 2002.
But they are hitting a deficit of around £8m a year after making an average annual income of just under £2.5m.
And this trend is expected to continue this year despite the council scheduled to pour nearly £11.8m into the running of the centres.Projected figures for 2007/08 revealed the income expected to be made from the leisure centres is £3m, creating a deficit of around £8.8m.
A breakdown of the shocking figures was revealed in a Five Year Performance Analysis on leisure centres carried out by Belfast City Council and obtained by the Telegraph.
Bob Stoker, chairman of the Parks and Leisure Committee, said it was a " huge mountain to climb" to make a leisure centre break even, but admitted that change is needed.
"Leisure centres are very expensive to run and it is a huge mountain to climb from a deficit to a break even point," he said.
Mr Stoker added that the community divide of leisure centres also has to be addressed.
"We want to see all our leisure facilities available to all our people in Belfast. And we have to move away from the if there is one in a unionist area, there has to be another in a nationalist area and vice versa," he said.
Mr Stoker said a Review of Leisure and Strategy for sport in the city is under way which will address a number of issues including managing facilities.
He said the council will also be examining the potential to link up to the private sector.
"There is no pre-determined outcome, but we will certainly be looking at what the private sector has to offer and can they do it in conjunction with Belfast City Council," he said.
SDLP councillor for south Belfast Pat McCarthy criticised the massive costs, adding that there are too many centres for one city.
"This was a directive from the Government during the Troubles to try and stop people murdering each other and instead go into leisure centres," he said.
"But it is time to move on. Maysfield, which was regarded by many as the only neutral site for a leisure centre was closed, and now the remainder are predominantly in separate communities," he said. "I certainly don't think it is good for the ratepayers of the city to have to be constantly forking out good money after bad."