A Galway city councillor has accused city officials of “giving the two fingers” to elected representatives, following the increase in price for users of Leisureland.
The increase in charges has led to a number of swimming and aquatic clubs around Galway boycotting the complex. Business from these clubs is worth nearly €250,000 a year to the public facility.
Monday’s council meeting heard the local authority is continuing to await legal advice on whether it is permitted to overrule the board of Leisureland and increase charges. The controversial decision prompted five of the seven board members to resign and a special meeting was held last month to discuss the issue. Councillors passed a motion at that meeting calling on the executive to reverse the price hike at the Salthill facility, which was closed for 11 months to facilitate renovations following last year’s extreme flooding in the area. Councillor Ollie Crowe called it “indefensible” that the council was still awaiting legal clarification a month on.
Independent councillor Catherine Connolly was very critical of the officials’ stance. “Unanimously councillors agreed that the charges should not be increased. Is the manager sitting here telling us that he ignored the views of 17 councillors? It is nonsense to hike prices at Leisureland, we should be doing everything we can to ensure people go back there. We want to be seen to encourage people to exercise and have a healthy city. You have lost me as a customer because of it, I now go to the Kingfisher at NUIG. ’’
Director of services for recreation and amenity Tom Connell said there had been a great reaction from the public to the re-opening of Leisureland. “Usage is good, we are in continual discussions with clubs to get them back. The fee increase was necessary to sustain the facility long-term. It is in the overall interest of everybody concerned to get Leisureland back on a sound footing.’’
Council CEO Brendan McGrath wants more money generated from the overall site, not just the swimming pool. He said it was important more money was generated from the hall at the complex, and to assess what role the hall could play in the European Capital of Culture bid.The CEO claimed a “robust” plan was in place to make up the shortfall in income from the aquatic clubs if they refused to return their business to Leisureland.
“There is a plan B and C in place, but we will not be pursuing those options just yet. I am meeting with the clubs this week and I look forward to that, I’m open to meeting them individually and collectively. I am willing to work with anyone to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion and move this process forward. The outgoing board agreed to increase the charges, this decision was made before the councillors proposed the motion not to increase prices. The council pumped €600,000 into Leisureland two years ago, the budget allocation is for €450,000 in 2015 and that is a capped subsidy. I have a duty to the council to ensure this subsidy is controlled as part of our overall budget.’’
Fine Gael councillor Pearce Flannery who was one of the board members of Leisureland who resigned said more detail was needed from officials regarding usage figures. He also demanded clarification as to whether it was true that a busload of choolchildren turned up at Leisureland last week and were togged out by the pool only to be sent home again because there was no instructor available. Director Tom Connell said he was not aware of that happening but he would investigate the matter.
A decision was made not to decide on the appointment of new members to the Leisureland board until the legal advice regarding the price increases was revealed.