Council vote paves the way for return of private swim schools to NLC

July 6, 2015

Newry Mourne and Down District Council have voted to allow the use of its facilities outside of normal Council opening hours, paving the way for private swim schools to return to Newry swimming pool.

The decision was taken at a Special Council meeting held on Monday last which discussed the issue of the dismissal of the private swim schools from both Newry and Downpatrick pools.

In February this year Newry swim schools Swimfit and Elsol had their private hire licences revoked by the Council from the Newry Leisure Centre after 30 years of teaching there, resulting in the loss of 25 staff and a waiting list of 800 children for Council-run lessons at the new pool.

After a sustained campaign by the Save Our Swim Schools group, their voices were finally heard on Monday night when El Sol swimming instructor Brendan O’Hagan delivered a presentation to the council on behalf of El Sol and Swimfit which outlined the impact of the schools’ removal on all affected parties, including the council itself, the swim school staff and the general public.   He highlighted the annual fee hire of almost £13,000 paid to the council by the swim schools for use of the pool during its closing hours and said the decision to oust the groups had led to the excessive waiting list for lessons.

With a number of recommendations proposed including a fee waiver for instructors of less-abled children, increased lesson time for less-abled children’s  and no lesson change for one-to-one lessons for able-bodied children, an amendment to the proposal that Council allows the hire of its leisure facilities outside of council hours was also proposed by Independent Councillor Cadogan Enright.

It was also proposed that any group private lessons in Council facilities would be targeted at groups not in the current council-run swimming programme.

The amendment passed by 19 to 14, despite Sinn Fein and the DUP voting against it.

El Sol’s Brendan O’Hagan said the result meant that “all the hard work people in Downpatrick and Newry put in over the last few months has paid off.”

“This is only phase one, but we’re further on now than we were this morning.”

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council subsequently announced the council’s agreement to a number of actions following Monday night’s meeting which “will positively impact all of our customers within the district.”

The Council pledged that “Moving forward, where there is a demand from the community and where the Council cannot provide services then the Council will continue to engage with the private sector. This will be continually reviewed to ensure all rate payers are getting the services they require and value for money.

“In addition to this, the Council will review its existing programmes to determine capability of utilising its centres outside of current opening times in a bid to enhance current offerings.

“For example, within Newry, the Council will review its current offering and look at proposals to utilise its facility outside of current opening times to enhance its current offering of swim lessons to help satisfy demand. This is sure to be a major benefit to the community and will ensure the centres are being used to their full potential.”

Chief Executive, Liam Hannaway stated, “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council will provide a clear and coherent way forward for the provision of swimming lessons in our district and which ultimately leads to increases in the levels of regular participation in this sport across the district.

“The Council seeks to ensure that it will target all ages and abilities and will consider a package of available options which meets community need, increases participation and provides accessible and inclusive activities for all citizens as part of an active lifestyle.”