Belfast Telegraph

£8m for failing Belfast leisure centres

By Suzanne Breen

Leisure centres in Belfast are incurring losses of more than £8m a year - leading to accusations that they are 'black holes' for ratepayers' money.

A document obtained by the Belfast Telegraph shows that over the past five years the city's leisure centres have lost nearly £45m.

The revelation will raise questions about whether ratepayers should be forced to continue to shell out for the failing leisure centres or whether they should be closed.

The council didn't respond when the Belfast Telegraph questioned it yesterday about its loss-making leisure centres.

All Belfast's 12 leisure centres incurred massive losses. The worst was the Shankill which lost almost £1,100,000. Avoniel was the second biggest burden on the ratepayer, also losing more than £1m.

Grove Well Being Centre (WBC) and the Falls leisure centre lost almost £1m each.

While Belfast's leisure centres lost over £8m last year, 2008 was even worse, when they lost almost £10m.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said: "It has to stop. A council review into leisure centres is under way. We've a duty to provide good facilities but also to use ratepayers' money wisely and that isn't happening with leisure centres at the moment."

Beechmount leisure centre was closed last year and Grove was replaced by Grove WBC, but Belfast still has 10 leisure centres.

"That's far too many," Mr Rodgers said. "A city our size needs only two leisure centres. But given that we are still a politically divided city, I would be prepared to go up to four - one each for east, west, north and south Belfast." Sinn Fein's leader on Belfast City Council Jim McVeigh strongly disagreed that any leisure centres should be closed.

"Leisure centres not being profitable isn't an issue for our party. They were never meant to make money. People pay rates to be provided with good quality leisure services at affordable prices," he said.

Independent unionist councillor Frank McCoubrey said there would be "an outcry the length and breadth of the Shankill" if anyone even suggested closing or demolishing it.

"It's a landmark in our area. The Shankill is one of the most socially deprived parts of Belfast. We're a community who have suffered so much and to take our leisure centre away from us would be disgraceful."

SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said change was needed. "The council must urgently draw up a strategy on leisure centres and that will unfortunately involve looking at the possibility of closing some centres. In the past, the decision was taken to close Maysfield leisure centre," he said.

While the council spent almost £12m on leisure centres last year, the income from the centres was less than £3,600,000.

Andersonstown and Whiterock leisure centres lost more than £900,000 each.

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