Belfast Telegraph

£1.5m lost after council got cold feet on plans to redevelop Dundonald Ice Bowl complex

By Adrian Rutherford

An aborted plan to redevelop Dundonald International Ice Bowl left ratepayers with a £1.5m bill, a report has revealed.

Proposals to rebuild the ice rink and bowling alley on the outskirts of Belfast were shelved two years ago.

Castlereagh Borough Council had entered into a contract without gaining consent from the new shadow council which would replace it.

And when councillors finally called a halt to the project, it led to a seven-figure write-off.

Today's report focuses on the final year of Northern Ireland's 26 councils before they were replaced by 11 new bodies in April 2015.

Local Government Auditor Louise Mason examined the accounts of the 26 former councils and various other bodies set up as part of the transition.

In total, audit opinions were issued on 68 sets of financial statements from the 2014/15 financial year.

Ms Mason's report flags up controversy surrounding the Ice Bowl.

The complex opened in 1986 and has around 600,000 visitors every year.

In September 2013 the Department of the Environment told councils to seek consent from their transition committee before entering into a capital contract of £250,000 or more.

Castlereagh Borough Council argued that such consent was not required as the contract was in place prior to the September 2013 direction.

But the project was ultimately aborted by the shadow council with a £1.5m write-off.

Today's report also reveals that absenteeism at councils hit a seven-year high.

The average sickness absence rate in 2014/15 was 12.32 days a year - up 6% per employee on the previous year and the highest since 2008/09.

The former Larne Borough Council recorded the highest absentee rate at 17.42 days per worker.

In 2014/15, councils agreed 169 exit packages for departing staff at a cost of £8.7m - 22 of them were over £100,000.

This represents a significant increase (120) in the number of packages from 2013/14 due to the move to 11 councils.

Of the £8.7m, nearly 70% was paid by five councils.

Belfast Telegraph


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