Derry Councillors vote to kickstart William Street baths revamp and against deferral

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Members of Derry City and Strabane council have voted by majority to scrap a planned deferment and to proceed with appointing a contractor to refurbish City Baths in William Street.

The move was proposed by Sinn Féin Councillor Emma McGinley after Councillors agreed to bring elements of a report into the deferral of work at the City Baths out of ‘confidential’ into the public domain for discussion.

In recent months it has emerged that the cost of the renovation works for the William Street baths has risen to £1m.

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Colr. McGinley spoke of difficulties faced by City of Derry Swimming Club, who are struggling to meet their training schedules, and the limited public swimming time avaiolable locally as council attempted to accommodate all user groups with limited facilities with ever increasing waiting lists for the Learn to Swim programme.

William Street baths in Derry.William Street baths in Derry.
William Street baths in Derry.

Making the proposal to have a discussion in public, she said: “A decision has been recommended ‘in confidential’ at the Health and Community Committee in relation to deferral of works at the City Baths and while I understand that elements of that report are confidential and should be kept as such, it’s my belief, and the belief of my party, that any decision that results in the deferring or delaying of the works at City Baths, and given the significant public interest around the reopening of the baths, that the decision should be brought out of confidential and discussed in open business.”

Happy to support the proposal, People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin added: “We’ve been talking to lots of people across the district and around the area and there are a lot of people in the Foyleside area who use the City Baths, as there are in the Moor, and from the beginning of this People Before Profit have supported the re-opening of the baths.

“We’ve had to deal with a number of arguments that doing the essential work will mean it will last only for a couple of years, all of which turned out to be untrue.”

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"We questioned from the beginning if without the baths we would be able to meet capacity for the entire district in terms of swimming and that’s been proved now not to be true.”

Councillor Emma McGinley.Councillor Emma McGinley.
Councillor Emma McGinley.

Most parties were in agreement, with SDLP councillor Brian Tierney saying: “We are happy to bring this item out of confidential simply because half of what we are going to discuss has already been in the public domain and on social media.”

Following a request for legal advice from Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson, the City solicitor Philip Kingston said: “There is a live procurement process ongoing in relation to this and there are financial elements contained within the report which clearly should remain confidential and there are issues around the overall rates process which would also need to remain confidential as well.

“Aside from that, the broader discussion around the City Baths could certainly come out of confidential business but members would certainly be asked to exercise discretion in terms of the way any particular figures in and around the financial aspect of this matter, to ensure there are no negative implications for the procurement process. In terms of the officers’ reports we can redact accordingly and deal with it on that basis.”

Alderman Maurice Devenney commented that the DUP would be happier if it stayed in confidential because of the financial implications. However, the vote in favour of coming out of confidential passed with 27 for, 4 against and 1 abstention.

Later in ther meeting, various Councillors advocated moving forward with the works as soon as possible.

In discussing the matter, Colr. McGinley said: “There is massive public interest in what is happening with City Baths. The people who use it have been asking when is it going to reopen? what is going on? Not only is it service users but also City of Derry Swimming Club they would use City Baths as their full length swimming pool.

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"There are residents contacting us as members to find out what is going on, who use it not just for their physical health but their mental health as well.

"The people in this community have waited too long. It has been delayed far too many times.”

Colr. McGinley proposed the removal of any deferral, so that the project can move ahead. This was seconded by Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle.

“We need to get on with this and pass this… we know that what we have right now is not enough,” Colr. Harkin said, as he highlighted how 400 children were on a swimming lessons waiting list. "I think the attempt to delay this and frustrate this was disgraceful,” he added.

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Alliance Colr. Rachael Ferguson said her party supported the motion to go ahead with the refurbishment, and said many people have memories of learning to swim at City Baths. “When this was suggested back in 2020 we all thought it would be up and running by now.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said the question the people were asking was ‘why?’ and he had no answer, and said people were aghast at the SDLP position on the matter.

UUP Alderman Keith Kerrigan said costings have changed dramatically and they had concern of the implication for ratepayers.

Also disagreeing with the proposal his party colleague Ald. Derek Hussey said beyond the city boundaries was being ignored. “If we’re talking about investing and having a secured leisure facility for 25 years great, but we are not, we are talking about investing to give it a couple of years’ life.”

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SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said he wanted to reiterate his and his party’s full support and refurbishment for the City Baths. He said the issues with it went back to 2008, and said he did not need to take a history lesson from anyone on the importance of City Baths as he grew up in the area.

He added that swimming lessons were only run in Tier One sites, while City Baths was a Tier 2 site.

"The SDLP are extremely worried about lumping a massive bill onto people who are already struggling. We are not suggesting for one minute that we do not carry out the works at City Baths. We are suggesting we defer them until we have a clearer understanding of Council finances in two months’ time.”

UUP Alderman Ryan McCready said difficult decisions have to be made by Council, citing the closure of Lisnagelvin Leisure Centre and the still awaited Templemore Sports Complex redevelopment, and the impact on rates. “When we make a decision we have to either cut something or charge for it. There is no other way round it,” he said.

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A vote was taken on Colr. McGinley’s proposal with Sinn Féin, the SDLP, People Before Profit, Alliance, Aontú and several independents voting in favour. In total the vote result was 25 for, and six against and therefore passed.