Leisure Centre Controversy: Update

Last night, I attended a public meeting in the Orchard Inn which discussed the proposed sale of Letterkenny Leisure Centre to fund the development of the new Sports Complex at Sallaghagraine.

The meeting was well attended, with appox 30 – 50 people and a handful of politicians.

I have discussed this issue at length here before, and I still stand by all that I said before. I feel it is vital that we do everything we can to retain the site, and if it can be shown that the Leisure Centre could continue to operate succesfully alongside the new Centre, that the Council should support this.

A number of suggestions were made which give us possible ways to move the issue forward. Doreen Sheridan-Kennedy suggested that the Council should work with Donegal VEC to attempt to sell the facility for use as a schools and educational facility. Cllr Neil Clarke suggested selling other lands to cover the money needed. Frank Gallagher, of the Green Party, suggested that the council should sell the new centre instead.

Cllr Jimmy Harte suggested simply reneging on the commitment that the council made in 2002 (before I was on the council, but while he was). When I raised the point that while the council could easily change the decision to sell the centre, the money (est E2 million) would have to come from somewhere, Cllr Harte said that was a matter “for the executive”. In effect, he was asking Councillors to write a cheque for E2 million (approx 25% of our annual budget), knowing that there was no money in the bank to cover it.

If the council were to do that, it would be a complete abdication of our responsibilities as Councillors, to the tax payers and rate payers in the town.

The new sports centre is a fantastic facility, unseen in most towns Letterkenny’s size. It would not have been possible for Letterkenny Town Council to commit to such a project (it’s an E18 million project, with E6 million in Central Government funding) unless they were able to secure loans. The council were only able to secure Government consent for such loans due to the healthy state of the Council’s finance. There is no massive stockpile of cash available, but there was no debt either, and a strong rate base to cover the repayments.

By suggesting the Council simply abandon the sale, without any idea of where to find the funding, Cllr Harte is proposing that we jeopardise not only the operation of both the site at High Road and the new centre, but also the ability of the Council to fund ambitious projects such as this in the future.

That is not something I could accept or support. I don’t think I would be alone in that. Even the Green Party’s Cllr Neil Clarke, who has strongly opposed plans to sell Council land in the past, is aware that the council needs to get this money somewhere, and raised the potential for selling alternative lands.

I believe this issue can be resolved, and the council can continue to develop and extend the services we provide in the town. But this needs to be done in a realistic manner, not by taking short-term decisions for the sake of political expediency.

I appreciate your comments on this matter. To prevent duplication, I ask that any comments are attached to the original post on the leisure centre.

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