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Carl Frampton's father Craig in battle to reopen north Belfast leisure centre shut down in pandemic

'There is no better place for it, but I believe Belfast City Council are simply using the pandemic as an excuse to shut it down'
Criag Frampton, who worked for Belfast City council for 38 years, believes Loughside Recreation Centre in North Belfast is being left to rot so it can be closed down

Criag Frampton, who worked for Belfast City council for 38 years, believes Loughside Recreation Centre in North Belfast is being left to rot so it can be closed down

Jamie McDowell

Craig Frampton has a fight on his hands.

The famous boxer’s dad is campaigning to reopen Loughside Recreation Centre in north Belfast.

But he says all is not what it seems.

“Loughside is the only recreation centre not to have reopened since pandemic restrictions started to ease,” said Craig, whose boxer son Carl frequented the centre as a kid.

“The council and the company that runs the centre, Greenwich Leisure Limited, say they couldn’t reopen the centre because it would be very difficult to put a one-way system in place, but if ever there was a leisure centre which would lend itself well to a one-way system, it’s Loughside.

“There is no better place for it, but I believe Belfast City Council are simply using the pandemic as an excuse to shut it down.”

Documents seen by the Sunday World state that “the usage of Loughside Recreation Centre has reduced over the years, from around 30,000 in 1998-99 to 18,000 in 2005-6”.

Graffiti at the Loughside facility

Graffiti at the Loughside facility

The document continues: “Income over the last two years has averaged £23,000/year, against expenditure of around £500,000/year.”

Craig said: “This £500,000-a-year running cost was challenged, as I believe that the real figure is more in the region of £160,000. Where are they getting this ridiculous figure from?

“Usage has reduced greatly in the last few years, but this, in my belief, is down to BCC’s leisure management’s unofficial policy, for example, bookings worth thousands of pounds being turned down and other bookings being diverted to other centres. All you have to do is look at the all-weather pitch, which has been closed for 32 years.

“Also, 20 years ago, every centre in Belfast was refurbished apart from Loughside.

“This is very hard to accept because at one stage in 1986 the centre was awarded the Sports Councils Management Award, National Winner Northern Ireland, for best small centre – third in the UK – now we must be the worst small centre in the world.”

Craig added: “The centre is a vital part of our community in north Belfast. We have a very high suicide rate and mental health issues in the area, and everyone knows exercise can be a vital tool in combating mental health issues.

“It was closed when the pandemic broke out, and those who used the centre were simply left high and dry with no communication. This caused unnecessary hardship for the disabled groups who used the centre.

“It’s in a fantastic location and is well serviced by public transport.

“We have Loughside Boys FC, who use the pitches and facilities here, and pensioners had been using the centre before it shut.”

In another email seen by the Sunday World listing membership targets for recreational centres in Belfast, Craig pointed out that the figure for Loughside is ‘0’.

The centre also hosts community groups that help with disabled people, including a disabled drivers group and a disabled football team.

“My fear is that if the centre never reopens it would be a damaging blow to the community. These groups are unable to book the main hall in the nearby Grove Leisure Centre as it has been closed long term because of leaks.

“The council have repeatedly given feeble excuses as to why the centre cannot reopen, like poor ventilation and an inability to operate a one-way system. This is nonsense, I do not believe that their arguments stack up.

“At this present time, I believe that the intentions for Loughside are to demolish it and replace it with a smaller centre, I believe that there should be genuine public consultation with the locals.”

Craig said that one thing he can take away from his campaign is that local football club Crusaders have shown an interest in using the all-weather pitch.

“One good bit of news, at least,” he said.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “Loughside Recreation Centre has partially reopened and is currently available for pitch bookings, with access to changing provision being facilitated.

“Belfast City Council is currently delivering a 10-year £105 million Leisure Transformation Programme which will see seven new and upgraded leisure centres built. Work is also underway to develop future options for the other leisure facilities not included in the current transformation programme, including Loughside.

“Any decisions on the future of these centres will be taken by elected members as part of this review, following consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.”

jamie.mcdowell@sundayworld.com


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