Letters to the Editor, ‘Newcastle leisure centre project facing race against time’

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Tuesday, June 4th, 2013
Community, Letters to the Editor
Dear Editor, The clock is now ticking regarding plans for a new multi-million pound leisure centre in Newcastle. I am concerned that a new leisure may never come to fruition within the next few years if political parties do not stop their political wrangling over the location for the new leisure centre. I am becoming increasingly concerned that attempts to purchase a former primary school site at Shanslieve Drive in the town to build the new £7m centre have to date proved unsuccessful. Down District Council officials are expected to end negotiations to buy the site if they can’t agree a price with its owners within the next few weeks. If Down District Council officials are unable to agree a price with its owners within the next few weeks then I would be of the opinion that negotiations to buy the site should end. I do not believe there is any point in the council handing over an open blank cheque to simply buy a site at an overinflated market price in the present economic climate. Donard Park was initially agreed as the preferred location for the new leisure centre before some councillors switched attention to the former school site, a move which I believe was for political expediency, that has ultimately led to the squabbling between certain political parties. If Donard Park is the preferred option then Council and Planning Service will follow all the relevant procedures required with such a development and consult with the relevant statutory agencies, neighbours and consultees prior to any planning approval being granted and construction being completed in Donard Park. The clear and harsh reality is that we as elected representatives now face a deadline caused by the proposed merger of Down and Newry and Mourne councils. In July a transition committee will be formed, which will have control of all major capital spend decisions, so agreement on the Newcastle plan is needed before July if we are to be realistic in delivering this project. If a decision on the location of the new leisure centre in Newcastle is not made within the coming weeks then I fear it will be a wasted exercise to proceed and appoint consultants next month to move the project to the detailed design stage as the consultants will not have an agreed site to design the leisure centre. We can either park the matter of a new leisure centre for Newcastle until the merger of Down and Newry and Mourne councils, by which time Downpatrick and Saintfield will have their new leisure centres commenced, or concentrate our efforts and give the people of Newcastle, Down District, visitors and tourists a new multi-million pound leisure centre in Newcastle. The situation is as crystal clear as that and does not need any further analysis, discussion, procrastination, blame game tactics or clarification. As a local councillor I am very conscious that failure to deliver a new leisure centre in Newcastle could have major ramifications for the resort, namely the possibility of a new health centre to be located in the proposed leisure complex, and the Newcastle Centre and Annesley Buildings at Central Promenade, which have been earmarked as a possible location for a new town centre hotel, which could generate a lot of jobs in construction and the hospitality industry. Ultimately it will be the people of Newcastle who will hold Down District Council and their local elected representatives to account if we do not deliver a new leisure centre in the seaside resort. Time is of the essence and I hope the other political parties can show some form of leadership by putting their differences aside and reaching agreement. Councillor Patrick Clarke (Alliance) Down District Council
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