Fury as council chiefs go cold on £40m plans to upgrade Dundonald Ice Bowl
A multi-million pound plan to upgrade Northern Ireland's only skating rink has been put on ice - with 60 jobs under threat.
The new Lisburn-Castlereagh super council has decided to freeze the funding for a major £40m upgrade to Dundonald Ice Bowl.
Castlereagh Borough Council has already invested £1.2m in redevelopment plans.
DUP councillor Jim White, chairman of the board at the popular Ice Bowl, said he was extremely disappointed that the new local authority, which takes control next April, has gone cold on the plans.
The DUP holds exactly half of the 40 seats on the new council, which currently sits in 'shadow' form, but the party is split on the issue.
Dundonald Ice Bowl was opened in 1986 and attracts around 600,000 visitors annually.
Redevelopment plans included a state-of-the-art bowling alley and a new children's soft play area, as well as an NHS hub and wellbeing centre. Costs were expected to be £35m-40m.
Mr White is chairman of the 10-member Leisure Park Board which runs the Ice Bowl, but is not a member of the new council, which will take over next April.
He said he now fears for the long-term future of the facility.
"It's in the hands of the new council now," he said.
"We didn't have any choice. They more or less told us that that was it, we were out of it.
"I'm extremely disappointed given the amount of effort that has been put into it."
The minutes of the September meeting of the board revealed that the CCTV system at the Ice Bowl needed replaced and that there may be a leak in the building.
Mr White said any investment smaller than the £40m previously earmarked "wouldn't be appropriate".
"It needs a lot of investment; it's nearly 30 years old now," he said. "It's a big employer in the area, there would be around 60 full-time staff and a lot of students working part-time.
"The skating is a hugely important area. There is a whole load of young skaters and they are absolutely brilliant. We have all that talent coming on."
The DUP is the largest party by far in the new Lisburn-Castlereagh Council with 20 members. Its nearest rival is the UUP, which has eight.
"I am disappointed that they didn't try at least to have a more serious look at it. We are at a stalemate at the minute," added Mr White.
Castlereagh mayor Jack Beattie (DUP), who is also on the Leisure Park Board, said it had been moving forward with the plans, "then it was put a stop to".
When asked if there was a feud between the DUP in Lisburn and the DUP in Castlereagh, he said that "there are differences of opinion". But he added: "It's at early stages yet."
Ulster Unionist board member Michael Henderson said the new council wanted more detail, but was confident some sort of redevelopment of the Ice Bowl will proceed. One source on the council claimed relations between the DUP in the two council areas had not been good since a decision by party leader and First Minister Peter Robinson - who dominated politics in Castlereagh for many years - to remove Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots as Health Minister.
Castlereagh Council said in a statement that a decision had been made by the shadow council for the new Lisburn City and Castlereagh District Council "not to proceed with the proposed plans to redevelop Dundonald International Ice Bowl in its current design, at this point in time".
"Lisburn and Castlereagh District Council is currently considering the associated costs of delivering and sustaining all the required services, projects and programmes for the new council area," a spokesperson said.
"Consideration must therefore be given to developing a prudent, affordable and sustainable financial model for the council during these challenging times."
Dundonald International Ice Bowl is our most popular visitor attraction, bringing in around 600,000 people each year.
It is also the only public Olympic-size ice rink in the province, and is the training ground for the Belfast Giants and some of our top figure skaters, including Jenna McCorkell, Neil Wilson, Carla Quinn, Edward Alton and Tameron Drake.