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Public outcry over swimming pool price hikes

February 23, 2015

The long awaited new Swimming Pool in Newry has been plunged into further controversy after it emerged that massive price hikes for use of the pool are to impact on the elderly, disabled and unemployed in the district.

The price row follows revelations just last week that the council have terminated the private hire licence for swimming schools at the new pool.

That decision has been heavily criticised throughout the community, while further news of the price rises has sparked a huge public backlash which has culminated with one community group, Unite in the Community, launching an online petition to protest the charges and the removal of the swimming schools.

The new pricing structure will see disabled children and adults fare worst with a staggering 2770% increase for children bringing their yearly fee from £5.75  to £165.  Disabled adults who currently enjoy a yearly fee of £11.45 will suffer a 1341% increase raising the price to £165.

Old age pensioners who previously paid just £3.35 per year will now be charged a one off £65 for life and those on benefits who currently pay £90.10 yearly will see an 83% increase taking their yearly fee to £165.

Initiating the online petition, Unite in the Community also say they will take to the streets to highlight the “injustice” of the swim schools’ removal and the massive price increases.

Outlining the aims of the petition, Martin McKeown, Co-ordinator of Unite in the Community issued a statement on the group’s facebook page which read:

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have claimed the increase in prices is due to parity within the council.  Basically we are being brought into line with Downpatrick prices.  Why this is so,  when Newry and Mourne District Council population stands at 99,480 and Downpatrick District Council stands at 65,000 – surely with 30,000 more citizens the prices should be in parity with Newry and Mourne?

“We believe that this price increase is an attack on the most vulnerable people within our society, the disabled, pensioners and the unemployed.”

Local Independent Councillor Brendan Curran has spoken out against the price hikes and the removal of the swimming schools and said he was “even more worried” by the silence of councillors on the issues.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Stephen Nolan last Wednesday, Mr Curran said,

“Here we have a private swimming school kicked out.  Hundreds of children’s lessons stopped, hundreds of lifeguard courses stopped yet they have nothing to say about this.  This has to be questioned.

“This is about people with disabilities and pensioners who get out of the house to use this facility for the exercise, the craic and the companionship.  It’s about making it affordable for them.  We need to hear from parties on this.”

Meanwhile SDLP Newry councillor Kevin McAteer has called for a review of the decision to increase pool prices claiming the decision is “unfair”

Councillor McAteer said the price rise was a “disgrace, particularly in a time of austerity and welfare cuts.”  He urged those opposed to the rise to sign Unite’s online petition and added,

“The situation is a result of the merger between Newry, Mourne & Down Councils – a situation which we did not ask for and was forced upon us by Stormont.”

“Officers have suggested that where there is a difference between a price charged by Down and Newry and Mourne that the higher price should become the price for the new council.

“This decision will impact the most vulnerable in my area and I publicly condemn this situation.”

The Council have confirmed that the new price policy “ensures a consistent approach for swimming facilities across the new district council” and had this to say on the termination of private swim school licences.

“Newry and Mourne District Council do not comment on commercial arrangements for private hire bookings.

“However, we value your feedback and can assure you that we will be delivering an enhanced swim lesson programme in the new state of the art Newry Leisure Centre and we also plan on delivering a consistent swim lesson delivery model across all of our centres in our new Council District from 1st April 2015.”

To sign the petition against the pool price increases and removal of swim schools visit www.change.org/p/newry-mourne-and-down-council-change-their-decision-on-closing-the-swimming-schools-and-slash-the-new-prices

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