Leisure Centre Controversy

Much controversy has erupted recently regarding the Council’s decision, taking a good few years ago, to sell the site of the current Letterkenny Leisure Centre, on the High Road, as part of the funding package for the new Regional Sports Centre, at Sallaghraine. A meeting took place this week, at which the Letterkenny Community Residents Association took the decision that they would attempt to oppose the closure. They have called another meeting, for October 24th at 8:30 in the Orchard, to discuss the plans further.

I have some reservations about parts of the plans for the new Centre, and have raised them both at Monday night’s Council meeting and in private with Council officials since. I am awaiting clarification on some of these issues back from the Council.

To clarify one point in particular, the Leisure Centre on the High Road is not turning a profit. The Centre is very well run, and has greatly improved its financial performance in recent years. But it is still losing money. Last year, it lost approx. E270,000, and continues at a similar rate this year. I have no problem with this; Letterkenny Town Council covers the loss, as part of our remit to provide a public Leisure service, Indeed, I consider this to be among the best money we spend.

There are three issues being muddled together as part of the current controversy:

  1. Closure of existing Leisure Centre
  2. Sale of site on High Road
  3. Management of new Centre, at Sallaghraine

I’d like to address those three items, in reverse.

Management of new Centre

The Town Council, before I was a member, took the decision that the best way to manage the centre would be with the involvement of an outside contractor with experience managing similar centres.

I have difficulty in accepting this. Currently, the Town Council succesfully manages our existing centre, and a similar body operates An Grianan Theatre. I fully believe we could effectively mange the new Complex in a similar fashion, and that the involvement of a third party would not be desireable.

However, I do not have the full facts behind the decision yet. When I get this information, I will be better able to discuss this issue.

Sale of site at High Road

The new development at Sallaghraine is budgetted at approx. E18.5 million. E6 million of this has come from Government funds, with the rest being delivered locally.

Part of this came from a loan of E5 million, secured by the Town Council. At the time the loan was issued, Letterkenny Town Council was one of only a handful of local authorities capable of getting approval for a loan of this size, due to the healthy state of the Council’s finances.

The sale of the site at High Road makes up a substantial part of the funding package for the new centre. The value of the site is estimated at E2 million.

My view on this is simple; if anyone can identify a better place to get the E2 million, I’ll listen to them and give it full consideration. As yet, nobody has suggested any other source for the funding.

It would be fantastic if Letterkenny Town Council could retain ownership of this valuable site for the future. I feel, however, that the new sports centre is a much better investment of the money than leaving the site there, unused, for the future.

Closure of existing Leisure Centre

Firstly, if you don’t know what is going into the new sports centre, please read this article first.

I live very near the current leisure centre, and have made regular use of it since it first opened. I learned to swim there. In my time as a Councillor, I have seen the huge efforts that go into running the Centre, and the great work done by the staff there.

As I said above, the Centre is currently running a (manageable) loss, despite having a high volume of visits. Letterkenny Town Council has committed to running the current Centre until the day the new Centre opens.

The big problem arrives when the new Centre opens. It is clear that people will be attracted to use the facilities of the new Centre. This would mean less of trade at the High Road centre, meaning it would require more of a subsidy from the Town Council. This is money that would have to be raised from local rates, and diverted from other projects in the town.

The operation of two centres would harm the trade in both, meaning two massive subsidies would be required from the Council, when we could run one centre with either a small loss, or potentially breaking even. When we consider the various strains on Council finances, I don’t believe that is justifiable.

I’m not an accountant, so I could be wrong in these points. If anyone cares to raise anything about these points, or any other, please leave a comment. It will go straight on to the page, and be viewable to everyone who reads this post.

For me, the most important issue in this is the employment situation for the staff the High Road centre. The Centre is run fantastically, and the staff there could provide invaluable support to the new Centre. It is vital that Letterkenny Town Council ensures the best possible way of ensuring we get our qualified, experienced staff from the High Road Centre to the new complex at Sallaghraine. I’m absolutely emphatic about this point, and it is connected to my views on bringing in an outside company to manage the new Centre.

I have posted this here in the hope of stimulating debate. I have raised the issues that are concerning me, and would welcome any comments you have to make on this project. If you would rather not comment directly on the site, you can get in contact with me directly.

Update: Post following public meeting on Oct 24th, 2006

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