Designs for a new leisure centre in Coleraine costing in excess of £20m have been described by some councillors as ‘not fit for purpose’.
Members of the Leisure & Development Committee received a presentation which outlined four possible design schemes with the costs of the original scheme from 2018 expected to be ‘heading north to £30m’.
Three of the four options saw a considerable reduction in the footprint of the new leisure centre at 4,860 sq m in comparison to the original design of 6,334 sq m, leading some councillors to call it ‘disappointing’ with a need to ‘go back to the drawing board’.
John Beggs, Project Officer for SIB (Strategic Investment Board) explained to the committee: “The first option (Option 3B) was the original option from 2018 which was costing at the time £21m. It was very much a large build to the rear of the site running adjacent to the culvert. With that option, it is technically viable and you can keep the existing building open but also it is unaffordable.”
Mr Beggs also noted that whilst the build would not be over the culvert it is adjacent to it therefore there would be additional building costs in the region of £200,000.
He added that ‘site constraints with regards to land boundaries also indicate that this option isn’t viable’.
The other options were 4A – Reduce the size of the new build by 20% to the rear of the site (avoiding the culvert) and adding a retail frontage with space at the front for possible future extension.
Option 4B, which would be at the front of the site, with the size of the new build reduced by 20%. It also had scope for a possible future extension.
Option 5 was a hybrid/carbon innovation model scheme. It also reduced the size of the new build by 20% and it would be a phased development retaining elements of the existing structure and enhancing it with a new build.
Mr Beggs described the hybrid model as ‘technically viable’ adding: “It retains part of the structure of the old building but it will be a complex build to construct over the existing centre and retain some of the building to keep it open whilst work is taking place towards the rear of the building. The feedback from Ostick + Williams and the design team is that it would be extremely challenging.”
The presentation set out the costings for each of the options with the original 2018 scheme which was £21,262,000 now estimated at £24,495,000.
The estimated costs for Options 4A/4B are now £19,664,000 with Option 5 estimates increasing from £19,664,000 to £20,998,000.
Last September the council tasked the project team with reducing the cost of the leisure centre quite considerably towards a target cost of £15m. However, Mr Beggs left committee members in no doubt to the possibility of achieving this.
He said: “To adhere to the latest requirements we would probably have to inflate these costs by another 10/15% to meet the latest carbon agenda so really the original scheme is £25m but with carbon add ons it is heading north to £30m.
“Whilst we have reduced the schedule of accommodation to make the scheme more affordable, unfortunately the cost of inflation has almost eradicated that benefit so we are back, I’m sorry to say we are talking around £20m for a decent leisure centre for Coleraine town.”
There was a glimmer of hope as Mr Beggs added that both the Coleraine Leisure Centre project and the Ballycastle Leisure provision ‘are certainly eligible and advancing to a state of readiness where we can actually submit them as Levelling Up applications’.
“We know from our success from the first tranche that we could be looking at significant bids. £3/4m up to £10m which have been secured by other councils for leisure-type projects in the first tranche. So we are very confident that we will be able to progress that but it puts pressure on the timeline.
“We need this OBC (Outline Business Case) approved to provide the basis of an application to Levelling Up. Our indications are that it is going to launch in April and close in June so we are still up against it and getting it through the Leisure & Development Committee for a final decision before it goes on to a more detailed design.”
DUP Alderman George Duddy was far from impressed, calling the options presented as ‘unacceptable.’
He said: “When you sit and reflect on the amount of time it has taken us to get here, we could probably have had one built some time ago, away back six/seven years ago for a lot less. We are now having to accept a much smaller leisure centre because of costs and affordability.
“We closed down Waterworld and part of the reason behind that was we were going to build a leisure centre in Coleraine which was fit for purpose and that purpose was the tourism trade which was coming into the town.
“We now see there is no Leisure Box wet play, we have no learner pool within the current design, to me that’s not acceptable.
“I think we are underselling ourselves, this is the largest town in our borough, it has a large catchment area which includes Portrush, Portstewart, Castlerock right out round Garvagh and Kilrea, we have a large hinterland which we are underselling and Coleraine was the only leisure centre in the old Coleraine BC (Borough Council).
“If we are planning for the future and we are serious about planning for tourism, if we are serious about bringing tourists to the North Coast then we need a leisure centre in our largest town which is fit for purpose.
“We need to be looking at investing and investing properly and I don’t think we are doing it by going from 6,334 sq m to 4,860 sq m. I think some outside of the box thinking is required.
“I am disappointed, deeply disappointed for the people of Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart that we may have to accept something that is less than is needed for the area and I think we need to take a serious look at putting something in that is fit for the future, fit for purpose, fit for the tourist, fit for the persons who pay the rates in this borough, fit for the next generation coming along and we aren’t doing it.”
Party colleague Councillor Philip Anderson agreed, adding: “When you look at the length of time we have spent on this, the one thing I’m picking out of this is that we are getting a decent leisure centre for £20m. I expect the people of Coleraine would think if we are spending £20m then they would want something more than decent.
“We have waited long enough for this and I think honestly we need to go back to the drawing board and bring something back that would enhance the area that is looking to draw in tourism.”
Bann DEA Councillor Adrian McQuillan called it ‘pretty unimpressive’.
He said: “When you look back at the schemes that we looked at back in Coleraine Borough Council days when we talked about moving the leisure centre out of Railway Road and moving it up to Mountsandel, those schemes were really exciting and the people of Coleraine were excited by them.
“No one will be excited about this and then you hear £20m mentioned in the same breath that makes it ten times worse.
“Coleraine Leisure Centre has been talked about for 20 years. We really need to go back to the drawing board and come back with something more.”
PUP Councillor Russell Watton described the proposed refurbishment as ‘nonsense’.
He added: “I am very disappointed in the reduction in the floor space and facilities. We were told this was going to be second to none with Waterworld gone and the Dunluce Centre gone, that this was going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread – it doesn’t look that way to me. We need to look at this again.”
Supporting Alderman Duddy’s comments, UUP Alderman Joan Baird added: “Coleraine Leisure Centre is, as we all know, not fit for purpose and the problem we seem to be up against is we seem to be looking for this funding coming from Levelling Up but we seem to have left it until the eleventh hour so I do not understand why this has not come before us earlier.
“The ABC (Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon) Council have built a state of the art swimming pool and leisure centre and I think we should spend the time to go and have a look at that and see if we can up our horizon. We should have a higher aspiration for this.”