Leisure centres to close in move 'to protect health and ratepayers' money'

Dessie Blackadder

Reporter:

Dessie Blackadder

Mid and East Antrim's three leisure centres are to shut for a four-week period following the Northern Ireland Executive's tightening of Covid-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, the Executive announced a month-long range of measures aimed at tackling the spread of the virus in Northern Ireland, including a ban on indoor sport involving the mixing of households, as well as the cessation for four weeks of fitness classes.

The Executive also said no unnecessary travel should be undertaken when the new restrictions come into effect on Friday 16 October, and this has been key to Council’s decision-making when considering which services should temporarily close.

Following two emergency meetings of Council's Group Party Leaders, the decision has been taken to shut Ballymena's Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Larne Leisure Centre and Carrickfergus Amphitheatre from Friday evening.

The latest Executive guidance enables pools and gyms to remain open, but this is only in the context of individual training sessions and does not permit group sessions or the mixing of households.

It is therefore not financially viable for Council to provide these two services given the poor level of uptake to date since reopening, coupled with the high running costs of ensuring appropriate levels of staffing and safety measures required to protect the public and our staff.

The Ladybirds group will still have access to the Seven Towers to provide childcare.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Peter Johnston, said: "The health and wellbeing of our community and staff has been absolutely paramount to Council throughout the pandemic and this continues to be the case as we move into the four-week period of restrictions.

"Despite strong promotion, the numbers of residents using our leisure centres since reopening remains extremely low, reflecting decreased public appetite for these services at this current time.

"For example, the average number of people attending the gym each hour has been two in Seven Towers, four in Larne and up to 13 in the Amphitheatre.

"We have a duty, which is more pressing than ever, to protect ratepayers' money, and this is why we have taken the decision to close these facilities for this short period of time, and their closure will also help suppress the spread of the virus.

"We recognise the decisions taken by Council will inconvenience a number of our citizens, but we must do all we can to protect the health and wellbeing of users and staff, and our finances during this crisis. We thank our citizens for their understanding and patience as we all work together to overcome this virus, which has caused such huge disruption to our daily lives and devastated so many.

"We will continue to work closely with our community, our businesses and our partners to do all we can to support them over the weeks and months ahead."

The very latest information on Council services can be found on our social media channels and our website: www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk

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