Leisure centre shuts over asbestos
A leisure centre transferring to Belfast's new super-council as part of local government reforms is to close indefinitely over safety concerns about asbestos.
The Robinson Centre, off the Castlereagh Road in the east of the city, sits within the part of the old Castlereagh Borough Council area which is being absorbed into the reconfigured Belfast council.
It is being transferred over to the enlarged Belfast council at midnight but both Castlereagh Borough Council and Belfast City Council (BCC) have been involved in a dispute over the hand-over.
The issue ended up in the High Court today, with Belfast council challenging a decision by Environment minister Mark H Durkan that the transfer of the property, and its past liabilities, should be completed on schedule.
The matter will now be subject to full judicial review at a later date. Belfast City Council said it did not succeed in obtaining an interim order to stop the transfer of the building tomorrow.
However, the council said an interim judicial direction was made to the effect that the liabilities will sit with the new Lisburn Castlereagh Council for the time being.
The building was temporarily closed by Castlereagh council earlier this year when previously undocumented asbestos was discovered in parts of the structure during a pre-transfer survey by BCC.
It has since reopened on a partial basis, with the swimming pool remaining closed.
But the doors will not open tomorrow when the trust that runs Belfast council leisure services takes over.
A meeting with the 35 plus employees has been scheduled in the 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 not open tomorrow and 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.
"We appreciate that one of the most sensitive issues is the outcome for the staff who work in the Robinson Centre. They have been advised by BCC by letter this afternoon that the centre will not open in the morning and a meeting has been arranged which will be attended by BCC management and recognised trade union officials."
He added: "Belfast City Council is committed to providing good value leisure services in all parts of the city, including those areas joining Belfast. The Council has already agreed to invest £105 million in its leisure facilities at no additional cost to the ratepayer and on Wednesday night it is set to agree how this investment will be made. This is likely to include significant investment in the east of the city, including the future replacement Robinson centre. This would ultimately be a significant enhancement to the facilities in that part of the city.
"In the meantime, we are working to ensure that those who currently use the Robinson Centre can continue to have access to leisure services during the indefinite closure that the Robinson Centre may face. "
A spokesman for Mr Durkan said: "It would not be appropriate to comment further as this is subject to a judicial process."