Belfast's Robinson Centre closes as asbestos puts 35 jobs in jeopardy
Belfast's new 'super council' has closed the doors on a leisure centre as its first act, with more than 35 staff facing an uncertain future.
The city's ratepayers were last night lumbered with a multi-million pound bill to deal with the asbestos-ridden Robinson Centre it was forced to take from the old Castlereagh Council.
After losing a last-minute High Court battle just hours before the 11 new councils took over, Belfast Council now faces the expensive choice of carrying out renovation work on the Robinson Centre or demolishing it and starting over.
Mr Justice Deeny's decision means Belfast City Council will have to deal with the potentially deadly material.
And ratepayers in the enlarged Belfast Council will foot the bill for Castlereagh Council's actions - one likely to run into millions of pounds. Lawyers had also claimed staff could sue the new local authority in the future over the presence of asbestos. But the doors will not open today when the trust that runs Belfast council leisure services takes over.
A meeting with the 35-plus employees has been scheduled this morning to discuss the situation. They will be paid by Belfast council and deployments in other centres will be considered.
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said the Robinson Centre "will be closed indefinitely as BCC will be carrying out a more detailed survey as soon as possible so that it could take an informed decision about the future of the centre".
Belfast City Council's legal team had wanted an order to stop the Department of the Environment - which is responsible for local government - from handing it the Robinson Centre.
They wanted it instead to fall under the control of the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
Parts of the centre, including the swimming pool, were closed after asbestos fibre was detected earlier this year.
David Scoffield QC, for Belfast City Council, had claimed it could be "lumbered" with a facility which is not fully operational.
But counsel for the minister successfully argued the case should not be allowed to come into court at the last minute and the transfer should go ahead.