Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 April 2015

Belfast feels the pinch as profits tumble at top attractions

Belfast Castle. Picture by Bill Corr
Belfast Castle. Picture by Bill Corr

Some of Belfast's top visitor attractions are facing severe financial strain after a significant drop in profits in the past year.

Profits are down at landmark facilities such as Belfast Castle, Malone House and the city zoo, according to a confidential document seen by this newspaper.

The 2010/11 fourth quarterly finance report, which was published in June, has highlighted a massive overspend of £187,000 at Belfast City Council's parks and leisure department.

Among the areas adding to the squeeze are:

  • Shop sales at the zoo, which have dropped by £135,000 in the last 12 months, while the fees and charges income from the facility are down by £8,000.
  • Income at the famous Belfast Castle, which has been reduced by £87,000 during the past financial year.
  • At Malone House, a popular wedding venue in south Belfast, income was down by £81,000 in the last 12 months.
  • An overspend of £348,000 on staff costs in the leisure section and £44,000 in the parks section.

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed the council had forked out more than £20m on agency staff and a further £18.7m on overtime.

The report confirmed that key areas of overspend "continue to be agency and overtime and reviews and audits are currently being concluded and recommendations will be actioned".

Utility costs specifically in relation to water and sewerage charges in the parks and cemeteries are also over budget by £250,000, adding to the squeeze.

This is partly due to the collapse of a borehole at the zoo which required links to the water network and for new sewage charges to be applied by NI Water.

DUP councillor Gavin Robinson, who sits on the parks and leisure committee at City Hall, said he was "concerned" such prized assets were "feeling the pinch".

He said the council may now have to source alternative funding from other cash-strapped Government departments.

Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh urged the community to support the "fantastic facilities".

Some leisure centres across Belfast are also struggling to cope.

Income from fees and charges is down by £83,000 with profit from sales of sports equipment and clothing down a further £35,000.

PUP councillor Hugh Smyth said closures may have to be reluctantly considered.

"Sooner or later the council is going to have to admit perhaps we do have too many leisure centres," he said.


Belfast City Council is Northern Ireland's largest local authority with 51 elected members, a staff of 2,400 and an annual budget of around £140m. Sinn Fein is the largest party. The DUP is second largest party.

Chief executive Peter McNaney has a salary of around £122,000.

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