Urgent call for leisure facilities

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Politicians throughout north and east Antrim have called for appropriate leisure facilities, including a swimming pool and sports halls, in Moyle.

The issue was raised after North Antrim SF MLA Daithí McKay secured an adjournment debate in the Assembly and urged the Environment Minister ‘to help to realise the project of the first indoor leisure facility for the residents of the district’.

Speaking afterwards Mr McKay said that the new Causeway Coast and Glens council must deliver explaining that Moyle had missed out on appropriate leisure facilities for the past 40 years because of the low rates base and being the smallest council in the north.

He said: “Moyle has the highest unmet demand for swimming pools and sports halls of any of the 26 local councils across the north. Sport NI’s Strategy for sport states that we should ‘ensure that 90% of the population have quality accredited, multi-sports facilities, that have the capacity to meet demand, within 20 minutes travel time.’ That is certainly not the case for those who live in Moyle. The nearest pool for people here is between 27 and 49 minutes away. So Moyle district would fail the Sport NI measure because about 80% of its population does not live within 20 minutes’ travel time.

“We should also put this in the context of the growing awareness and debate about public health among the general populace. The further away a swimming pool or indoor facility, the less likely people who live in places such as Ballycastle are to use it. It is critical to mental health, physical health and well-being that those facilities are in place.

“To date, Moyle council, to its credit, has used limited resources to fund a leisure services strategy. That includes options on how to move forward positively on the provision of a state-of-the-art leisure facility. Ultimately, that is what is needed to resolve the situation.

“I welcome the Environment Minister to the debate. I ask him to assist in whatever way he can to work alongside the local government authority in Moyle, the new Causeway Coast and Glens District Council, as it will be introduced in coming months, to help to realise the project of the first indoor leisure facility for the residents of the district, who have been marginalised for so long when it comes to public service provision, particularly leisure provision. That inequality really needs to be addressed.”

East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan added: “The debate allowed me to put the case for a 3g pitch in the Glens. I also outlined the lack of services for the disabled and the distance they have to travel to train for the Special Olympics, I also made the case for the local soccer club and it was pointed out that they have to play their home fixtures in Larne resulting in a 50 mile round trip.”

North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey also told the Assembly that Moyle Council must face up to it’s responsibilities when it comes to the poor provision of Leisure facilities in the Moyle area.

He said: “I was born and brought up in the Moyle council area. I lived in Armoy until I was 15. I am proud of where I come from, but the one thing that was glaringly obvious in my upbringing was that, if I was going to depend on Moyle council to provide facilities for me, my family and my community in the village of Armoy, it failed miserably.

“There is a facility at the Marine Hotel that should be enhanced and open to the public in a way that benefits tourism and the local community in Ballycastle. In my opinion, in many regards, Moyle council has failed miserably to do that.”

Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim UUP Assembly Member also urged both the Culture and Environment Ministers to join forces. Mr Swann said: “I appreciate there is a real fear among Moyle residents that the only way that those facilities could be provided would be by putting them on the rates, but there is a small rates base in Moyle.

“There is also a wee bit of responsibility there for the council to look for that rate base and for matched funding that is available, should that be from Europe, the Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister or other avenues, because that ability is there.

“One of my concerns is that among the major attractions for people coming into Moyle and particularly those making the crossing to Rathlin is the bird sanctuary run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). That sanctuary will close over the summer for major refurbishments, so the number of additional visitors or tourists who would be drawn there specifically for the bird sanctuary will decrease. That attraction will not be replaced by a leisure facility.

“Rather than go out of our way to build a new swimming pool and new facilities, why does Moyle council or the new Causeway Coast and Glens not look into partnership with the Marine Hotel and the caravan park and do something there, whether it be co-ownership, sponsoring it, supporting it or whatever means possible? Let us make use of the physical facilities that we already have there. By increasing the number of people coming through the door of the Marine Hotel or any other provider up there, we could increase the footfall through there.”

TUV MLA Jim Allister also strongly backed the call for a 3G pitch in Bushmills however also expressed concerns over the ‘feasibility’ and long term sustainability of a leisure centre.

He added: “There is a proposition before Moyle council that Moyle should have an all-singing, all-dancing leisure centre. That is a very attractive proposition, given what it would do for the area and visitors. However, I think that there is a responsibility to consider the feasibility of such a proposition and to establish its sustainable in the long term. I think that really is the key.

“Yes, there undoubtedly is under-provision at this moment, and there needs to be a better standard of provision, but the real question is about what is ultimately sustainable, not least for ratepayers.

“I suspect that some have an ambition that, with the enlarged council, including Coleraine, Ballymoney, Moyle and stretching through to Limavady, they will be able to spread the burden considerably in that regard. That may well be a consideration, but at the bottom of all that is this question: is what is being proposed sustainable? That, I think, has to be a touchstone for what is proposed and obtained for the area.”