Belfast City Council officials discussing possible closure of Loughside leisure centre

052Leaked management plans by outsourced management company, Greenwich Leisure Limited, admits closure would be ‘extremely political’ and recommends exploring ‘opportunities for reduced operational hours’ in the interim.

Plans in discussion also include transfer of Whiterock leisure centre to community groups casting doubts over long-term future of that facility

June 22nd: Unite Regional Officer, Michael Keenan, called on Belfast City Council to bring back all leisure centres into municipal management and defend the future of all facilities across the city.

“Over the past two years Unite has led opposition to plans to cut funding for Belfast leisure services by £2 million annually. We have sought to expose how the austerity budget agreed by the City Council will mean attacks on workers’ pay, corner-cutting on health and safety, service reductions and more limited access to those coming from deprived parts of the city.

“Leaked plans by outsourced management company Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) which are being disclosed by Unite in the public interest show that they are not happy with ‘savings’ from staff cuts, a two-tier workforce and closure of services but are now considering the outright closure of a number of leisure centres across the city.

“The document confirms discussions between GLL and Belfast City Council officials are ongoing for a community-asset transfer of Whiterock Leisure centre to unspecified community groups. Unite is hugely concerned that this has been advanced with little to no community engagement or dialogue. Across the UK such community-asset transfers have left community groups struggling with inadequate funding to sustain amenities and left to ‘carry the can’ when they inevitably close – when the real blame should fall at the feet of the public authorities themselves.

“The plans also detail more advanced discussions between GLL and Belfast City Council officials on the closure of Loughside although again there has been no consultation with the local community in the Shore Road area. The document admits that the closure would be ‘extremely political’ and recommends a strategy of exploring ‘opportunities’ for reducing opening hours in the interim.

“There is clearly a hidden agenda to close leisure facilities and amenities in Belfast – all in order to deliver on the Council’s austerity budget. The interests of users, the local communities and the staff appear nowhere in such Machiavellian machinations.

“Unite represents the overwhelming bulk of workers in Belfast’s Leisure Centres. We will be discussing with our members our next steps on how we best respond to this underhand agenda of austerity-driven closures and downgrading. Unite is calling on Belfast City Council to do the right thing and return management to democratic control and accountability so as to guarantee long-term access to quality leisure services and decent conditions for workers”, Mr Keenan concluded.

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