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Belfast council bid to resolve Robinson Centre stalemate ‘runs aground’

By Alan Erwin

Published 20/10/2016

The Robinson Centre was closed in 2015 amid concerns over asbestos
The Robinson Centre was closed in 2015 amid concerns over asbestos

Attempts to resolve a legal battle over a leisure centre closed amid asbestos fears have "run aground", the High Court has heard.

Belfast City Council's challenge to the decision to transfer the Robinson Centre in Castlereagh into its control is now set to go to a full hearing early next year.

The action, brought against the Department of the Environment, had been repeatedly adjourned amid continuing efforts to reach a settlement.

But Mr Justice Deeny was informed on Thursday that all talks to date have failed to produce a breakthrough.

David Scoffield QC, for the Council, said: "I'm sorry to inform Your Lordship that, at least for the minute, discussions have run aground.

"We have agreed to ask the Court to fix a date for (hearing) the matter."

The Robinson Centre, located off the Castlereagh Road, closed in February last year due to health and safety concerns over asbestos.

The facilities were transferred from Castlereagh Borough Council to the new Belfast super council on April 1, 2015.

That prompted an eleventh-hour legal bid to stop the handover.

Although Belfast City Council was denied an order restraining the Department from making the transfer, a challenge to the legality of the move has continued.

The cost of refurbishing the Centre has been estimated at a conservative £5million.

Read more: Belfast's Robinson Centre closes as asbestos puts 35 jobs in jeopardy

In May last year a committee at Belfast City Council approved demolishing the facilities if they remained under its control.

It was stressed at the time, however, that planning of that work was in no way an acceptance that the transfer from Castlereagh Borough Council under Local Government Reform was correct or lawful.

The legal case was previously put on hold to await the outcome of the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May.

It was hoped that new ministers could then be in place to make a final decision on the leisure centre.

Earlier this year the court was told discussions aimed at ending the dispute were at an advanced stage.

However, Mr Scoffield confirmed the ongoing stalemate.

He pledged that attempts to reach a resolution will continue in advance of the full judicial review.

Listing the case for a three-day hearing in January, Mr Justice Deeny told the parties: "This is now quite a mature matter and I agree it should be disposed of.

"Obviously come in (to court) if you manage to sort it out."

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