Leisurely wait for Nationalists
North Belfast Catholics could wait at least six years for leisure centre

It has emerged that the creation of a new leisure centre in nationalist North Belfast may be delayed until at least 2011.

The North Belfast News has learned that the council does not intend to commence construction of a new leisure facility until 2009 and even then it may take years to complete and broker the deal.
The council is renovating two existing leisure centres at the Grove and Falls at the moment.
Falls is nearing completion at a cost of £7.2 million and Grove has got off the starting blocks with some preliminary work carried out last week. Its projected costs are nearing £11 million.
A leisure facility for does not exist in nationalist North Belfast and according to the council; early consultation has shown that Girdwood Army Barracks and its 20 acres and the Waterworks are both popular options to locate the new facility.
However, with reference to Girdwood, the chance to put the new leisure centre there, may hinge on whether politicians broker a deal in the near future and finally take their places on a power sharing executive.
North Belfast SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said he had hoped that work would commence earlier.
“It has been agreed in principle that a leisure centre will be in North Belfast, which will be particularly accessible to catholics. This must be implemented as soon as possible,” Alban Maginness said.
“Political will will determine this matter, not the narrow view of council officers.
“I am optimistic that the Girdwood site will come on stream reasonably soon. Therefore in terms of a facility, it is my belief that money will become available, if and when a site becomes available.
“There are no serious obstacles here to block an expeditious implementation of a plan to a build a leisure centre in North Belfast. If there is political will in the council then this leisure centre will become a reality in the future.
“It is my strong view that 2011 is speculative, and I would guess it would have no real substance. It is up to all of us to ensure that the council fulfils its obligations to the people of North Belfast.”
As part of the talks surrounding Leeds Castle in 2003 and resulting Joint Declaration the British Government laid out plans for the demilitarisation of Girdwood Barracks as part of its ‘normalisation policy’.
This paper revealed in the run up to Christmas that had the DUP entrusted their support to the package of proposals, Girdwood Barracks would have closed in a matter of weeks.
According to the council early consultation has indicated that Girdwood Barracks would be a popular choice. However, a spokesperson for Belfast City Council’s leisure services said it was impossible to develop plans at the moment because “circumstances could change”.
“The timescale for North Belfast is 2009, and we are due to start construction in 2009.
“We did some initial city wide consultation on a North Belfast facility and the two frontrunners were the Waterworks and in behind the Mater Hospital, at Girdwood. Neither of these sites are ideal at the moment, but we feel circumstances could change. We will be doing more consultation as the situation develops, but we are not working towards an early decision on the site. Nothing is happening in the short term on that.”
North Belfast Sinn Féin councillor Carál Ní Chuilín said she was angered by the council’s “politically overt statement”.
“I don’t think we should be waiting on a political deal in order to move on this issue,” Carál Ní Chuilín said.
“This is a very politically overt statement the council has made and I don’t believe that it appropriate that the council’s decision is being coloured by the current political deadlock.
“We should be considering all the options and making decisions now. It’s a very bleak picture for nationalists in North Belfast if they are being told the political situation has to be settled before they get a long overdue leisure facility.”

Journalist:: Áine McEntee

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