£250,000 tourism boost for Newcastle

£250,000 tourism boost for Newcastle

18 November 2020

NEARLY a quarter of a million pounds is to be spent on three of Newcastle’s iconic tourist facilities.

The money will be earmarked to extend the life of the Tropicana fun pool in the short term and to address urgent health and safety issues for the Newcastle Centre’s auditorium and the Rock Pool.

Members of Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s Active and Healthy Communities committee approved three separate recommendations for the venues at Monday night’s monthly meeting.

Councillors were asked to approve a £150,000 spend on the Tropicana to extend its life for two to three years; £50,000 on improving the structural steelwork supporting an overhanging roof in Newcastle Centre’s auditorium and £40,000 to remove a viewing platform at the Rock pool along with a consultant to carry out “invasive and exploratory works” to determine future upgrades.

The council’s assistant director of Leisure and Sport, Paul Tamati, told members that recent reports into the Tropicana facility identified three options — do nothing and closure, the preferred option to undertake the interim repairs to extend its life in the short-term, or a major upgrade.

He asked members to include the £150,000 investment into council’s capital programme over the next two years.

Mr Tamati told the meeting that if the money was not invested, the facility would not be able to be reopened for next summer.

Councillor Billy Walker told the meeting: “I know that this has been ongoing issue but I won’t be voting in support of it tonight. We are in a bad economic climate at the minute with Covid and I don’t believe it’s value for money.”

Downpatrick councillor John Trainor asked Mr Tamati for figures on the actual usage of the facility and this was promised by the end of the meeting.

Slieve Croob councillor Andrew McMurray highlighted a continued need for people to enjoy outdoor exercise during the pandemic and it was incumbent on the council to provide it. 

Mr Tamati agreed with several councillors that there may be additional funding open to the council to pay for the work and he would investigate. 

Slieve Croob councillor Hugh Gallagher described the proposed spend as a “positive investment” and admitted the facility “was closed more than it was open” due to maintenance issues. 

However, he added: “It’s vitally important to support this.”

Mournes councillor and committee chairwoman Leeanne McEvoy said that the facility required the investment now and added: “Children use it rain, hail or snow”.

The motion was proposed by Cllr Mark Gibbons and seconded by Cllr Hugh Gallagher. 

Mr Tamati said that ongoing structural steelwork issues with an overhanging part of the roof of the auditorium at the Newcastle Centre represented a health and safety concern.

He revealed a structural assessment report by engineers had identified “significant concerns relating to the structural integrity of the steelwork given the localised environment of the Newcastle Centre.

He asked committee members for approval for the immediate erection of scaffolding to the extension at an estimated cost of £40,000 per annum along with the appointment of consultants to look at ways of additional support of the structure at an estimated costs of £10,000.

Slieve Croob councillor Cathy Mason said the proposal highlighted the need for new leisure facilities for Newcastle while Cllr Trainor sought confirmation that the problem did not concern all of the centre’s roof. 

The motion was proposed by Cllr Charlie Casey and seconded by Cllr Gallagher.

Mr Tamati asked the committee to consider the “urgent removal of the upper side viewing platform’ of the outdoor swimming facility, the Rock Pool.

He also asked for approval for the appointment of specialist consultants to carry out further “invasive and exploratory works”, including core drilling, to establish whether any further upgrade works were required. 

He talked at the extra care needed as the Rock Pool had been designated as a historic monument.

Cllr Hugh Gallagher proposed the expenditure and Cllr Karen McKevitt seconded.

The motions are to go before the next full council meeting to be rubber-stamped.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Laura Devlin, and council chairperson, said: “I thank Hugh for proposing that council moves ahead with these much-needed surveys. The Rock Pool is deeply rooted in the Newcastle community and is a very important part of our history. The Rock Pool must be preserved and enhanced as we move forward.”