Belfast Telegraph

North Down gun club fights back after opponent launches petition

By Dave Whelan

The Gun club at the centre of a row between North Down councillors has hit out at suggestions that it is wasting ratepayers' money.

The Clandeboye and District Ulster Special Constabulary Pistol and Rifle Club, formed after the abolition of the B-specials in 1970, have criticised those behind a petition to try and prevent just under £450,000 of public money being spent on new facilities.

Currently there are around 200 members and existing facilities are in use most nights of the week.

Club member Brian Swann said that the facilities would be used by a number of clubs including themselves and stressed that they were open to membership applications.

"The use of the term private members club has been used a lot by certain councillors and what is not mentioned is that all fire arms clubs in Northern Ireland have to be private because of the law," he said.

"We know of at least one other gun club in the area that this new facility would accommodate, not to mention other sports and events."

A total of £1,294,000 had originally been set out for the development of a new multi-purpose building on Hamilton Road, Bangor, but it has now been confirmed that a further £442,000 will be allocated to the development of a basement area with facilities for a gun club.

The Club had previously operated in the borough's gymnasium and Hamilton House, both of which are set to be demolished to make way for the new building.

Despite a lease between the gun club and the facility running out in 2009, North Down Borough Council voted to cover the cost of new facilities at last month's full meeting.

Independent councillor Brian Wilson has since written to the Minister and local government auditor to complain that spending ratepayers' money on a private club is "economically, socially and morally wrong".

Mr Wilson said that the council was under no obligation to provide facilities for a private members club which will provide no additional income and questioned its positioning in the same building as a children's play group.

"This is a building that will add £20 to £30 pound on top of the rates of every household and yet is exclusive in its membership.

"This new building is a community centre to be used by everyone including young children and a gun club at the centre of it is sending out the wrong message across the community."

Mr Wilson has been campaigning to raise awareness of the project after he said it was done "virtually in secret" by a majority in the council because the decision was taken in committee without any press or members of the public present.

He alleged that North Down Council takes "unjustified advantage of Section 23 of the Local Government Act to exclude the press at every opportunity."

Questions have been raised by some local youth groups as to whether the money had been previously earmarked for youth provisions within the centre, although a spokesperson for the Council denied that there was any displacement.

"The investment of just over £400,000 for a projectile range facility within a basement level of the new Hamilton Road building is over and above any investment in new community facilities. As such there will be no displacement of the planned community and advice service provision at the location," she said.

"The range facility will be for use by any bona fide shooting or archery clubs. Shooting and archery are recognised Olympic sports and are well supported in North Down and across the wider region."

Independent councillor Austen Lennon said that while he is not a member of the gun club he fully supports its involvement in the local community.

"Brian Wilson's campaign to vilify the gun club and get it thrown out of premises, which it has held for decades, is a sad reflection on just how extreme his ultra liberal left wing views have become over the long years. This is an anti-gun campaign and is down more to left-wing hysteria generated by Councillor Wilson than the facts.

"The gun club, like all clubs, has tenancy rights, they also pay a rent on the premises. The new Hamilton Hall build will include the gun club in the basement. The club will pay rent on the area that they use. That rent will continue for many decades and bring in income to the Council. This build is like a mortgage that is being paid for by the rent of the club.

"The basement area of a building, with no windows, can only be used for a limited number of functions and this is one of them and it will bring in extra income to the Council more than offsetting the costs."

"Brian Wilson's arguments about the gun club getting special treatment is simply disgraceful, he is playing his left wing politics with a club that has a long and proud history in the Borough and the club is receiving no special treatment. The bottom line is that if 'any' landlord decided to rip down their building and rebuild they have a duty of care to long standing tenants to care care of them."

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