Belfast council pledges £19m to replace asbestos-ridden Robinson Centre
Belfast City Council has set aside £19m to replace a leisure centre it closed down on its first day in existence over asbestos concerns.
DUP councillor Gavin Robinson revealed the news at the first meeting of the new enlarged Belfast City Council last night.
The £19m is part of a long-term £105m investment in leisure centres across the city.
This news comes after the closure of the Robinson Centre in Castlereagh this week following the discovery of asbestos in February.
The leisure centre had been owned by the old Castlereagh Council but was transferred over to the reluctant new owner, Belfast City Council, at the stroke of midnight yesterday.
The centre was immediately shut down.
When asbestos is disturbed, fibres are released into the air. If they are inhaled they can cause serious diseases.
It is that discovery that has led to a legal wrangle over who should be responsible - Belfast City Council or the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
The 38-strong workforce at the leisure centre have been told that there are no plans for compulsory redundancies.
Trade union members met senior management at Belfast City Council yesterday morning to discuss the staff's future.
Representatives from Nipsa and Unite revealed after meeting Belfast City Council management that staff have been given leave over Easter on full pay.
Unite's regional officer Davy Edmont said: "All members of staff that were employed directly by Castlereagh Council are receiving full jobs and full employment within Belfast City Council.
"That's a guarantee we've received this morning from the chief executive."
In a statement, a spokesman for Belfast City Council (BCC) said: "Staff were assured that BCC and the trade unions are actively working together to do everything in their power to avoid compulsory redundancies and explore every avenue to find suitable work." The spokesman added: "The affected staff will remain will be paid from today by Belfast City Council and there will be a series of individual meetings with each of them after the Easter break to look at all opportunities."
The row over who should be legally responsible for the building hit the courts earlier this week.
Belfast City Council won leave for a judicial review of the transfer on Tuesday evening. The new local authority believes its ratepayers should not pay for the running of a centre which, it claims, is not fit for purpose.
The judge on Tuesday ruled that Belfast would not be liable for any claims prior to April 1, and that Lisburn and Castlereagh would be responsible for any claims of negligence before the handover.
The centre will stay closed until legal issues are resolved.
Councillors across the chamber last night congratulated council officers on how the matter had been dealt with.
The Robinson Centre was built and managed by Castlereagh Borough Council until this week when it passed into the ownership of Belfast City Council as part of the re-organisation of local government.
Parts of the former Lisburn Council area, including Poleglass, are now also part of the new enlarged Belfast City Council.