Carl Frampton’s father Craig is fighting to reopen the pandemic-shuttered north Belfast leisure center

Craig Frampton has a fight on his hands.

he father of the famous boxer is campaigning to reopen the leisure center in Loughside, north Belfast.

But he says all is not what it seems.

“Loughside is the only recreation center that has not reopened since pandemic restrictions began to ease,” said Craig, whose boxer son Carl attended the center as a child.

“The council and the company that runs the centre, Greenwich Leisure Limited, say they could not reopen the center because it would be very difficult to have a one-way system, but if there was ever a leisure center which would lend itself well to a one-way system is Loughside.

“There’s no better place for it, but I think Belfast City Council is just using the pandemic as an excuse to shut it down.”

Documents seen by the Sunday World say that ‘use of Loughside Leisure Center has declined over the years, from around 30,000 in 1998-99 to 18,000 in 2005-6’.

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Graffiti at the Loughside facility

Graffiti at the Loughside facility

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

Craig said: “That running cost of £500,000 a year has been disputed as I think the real figure is more in the region of £160,000. Where do they get this ridiculous number from?

“Usage has declined significantly over the past few years but this I believe is due to the unofficial policy of BCC Leisure Management, for example bookings worth several thousand pounds are refused and other bookings are diverted to other centers.All you have to do is look at the all-weather ground, which has been closed for 32 years.

“Furthermore, 20 years ago all the centers of Belfast were refurbished except Loughside.

“It’s very hard to accept because at some point in 1986 the center received the Sports Councils Management Award, National Winner Northern Ireland, for best small center – third in the UK – now we have to be the worst small center of the world. “

Craig added: “The center 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 that exercise can be a vital tool in combating mental health issues.

“It was closed when the pandemic hit, and those using the center were just left dry with no communication. This caused unnecessary hardship for disabled groups using the centre.

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

“We have Loughside Boys FC, who use the pitches and facilities here, and retirees used the center before it closed.”

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

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

“My fear is that if the center never reopens, it would be a blow to the community. These groups cannot book the main venue at the nearby Grove Leisure Center as it has been closed long-term due to leaks.

“The council has repeatedly given weak excuses as to why the center cannot reopen, such as poor ventilation and an inability to operate a one-way system. It’s nonsense, I don’t think their arguments add up.

“At this time I think the intentions of Loughside are to demolish it and replace it with a smaller centre, I think there should be a real public consultation with the locals.”

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

“Good news, at least,” he said.

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: ‘Loughside Leisure Center has partially reopened and is currently available for pitch bookings with access to layout changes being made easier.

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

“Any decision on the future of these centers will be made by elected members as part of this review, after consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.”

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