Resolution in council battle over asbestos-risk leisure centre

A Stormont department has pledged £500,000 towards the cost of demolishing and redeveloping a leisure centre closed amid asbestos fears, it has emerged.

The financial contribution forms part of a resolution reached in a long-running legal battle over the decision to transfer the Robinson Centre in Castlereagh into Belfast City Council’s control.

Under terms confirmed at the High Court following “strenuous” negotiations the Belfast authority is to retain ownership of the site.

But any lawsuits for asbestos-related incidents before the facilities were transferred in April 2015 will instead be directed against the new Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.

Dismissing the case, Mr Justice Deeny said an earlier suggestion that the risk should remain with the previous owner has now become a permanent arrangement.

The Robinson Centre, located off the Castlereagh Road, closed in February 2015 due to health and safety concerns over asbestos.

Two months later the facilities were transferred from Castlereagh Borough Council when the new Belfast super council came into operation as part of local government reforms. That prompted an eleventh-hour legal bid to stop the handover.

Although Belfast City Council was denied an order restraining the former Department of the Environment from making the transfer, a challenge to the legality of the move has continued.

The cost of refurbishing the Centre has been estimated at a conservative £5 million.

In May 2015, a committee at Belfast City Council approved demolishing the facilities if they remained under its control. Its legal action continued amid efforts to broker an agreement with the respondent, now the Department for Communities.

In court on Wednesday, David Scoffield QC, for Belfast City Council, said: “There have been lengthy and strenuous efforts between the parties to resolve the issues.

“Happily, after some time the parties have managed to reach an agreement in this case which is satisfactory to all concerned.”

Assets transferred from the former Castlereagh and Lisburn Councils will remain with Belfast. But any liabilities associated with them, including asbestos claims, are to be against the previous owners. Mr Scoffield also confirmed:

“There has been an agreement reached with the Department which will assist Belfast City Council in remediating the Robinson Centre site.”

It is understood to involve a pledge of £500,000 towards the costs of demolition and building a new leisure centre. On that basis the judge dismissed the case with no order to costs. Mr Justice Deeny added:

“I’m very glad that the parties have been able to resolve the matter and I congratulate them in doing do.”