£34,000 for previously waterlogged Derry running track works only a ‘sticking plaster’
Spending tens of thousands of pounds on a temporary fix to replace the surface of the running track at St Columb’s Park when a bigger programme of works is needed has been deemed “quite an expensive sticking plaster”.
Councillors have agreed they should not spend up to £34,000 of ratepayers’ money on remedial works as doing so would not impact on the need for a longer term solution.
Members of the Health and Community Committee were informed that the figure quoted was purely for removing the top layer of the track and re-stoning it.
At the September meeting of the committee the poor condition of the track was raised after there were numerous complaints following the Waterside Half Marathon.
Responding to SDLP councillor Brian Tierney’s request for an update on remedial works, council’s Head of Community and Leisure, Barry O’Hagan said: “Members would be aware that I brought a paper looking at this. We talked about how it would be a long term capital project to make a real difference but we would try some remedial works and we had a budget set aside of £8,500.
“We have worked with our colleagues in Property and have gone to tender and the cheapest quote we got in was between £32,000 and £34,000 for that work so unfortunately we don’t have that budget.
“The price of that doesn’t even include drainage or a properly engineered and designed scheme; it’s simply scraping the top layer of the track off and replacing it with stone.
“Apparently it’s the price of the stone that’s come back extremely expensive so it’s becoming more and more like a capital project in terms of making any sort of difference. So it’s something that will have to be brought up at the Capital Working group with a paper to get it on a list in terms of how we take this project forward.”
Councillor Tierney posed the question: “To get the running track back to usable standard but no improvements around the drainage is going to cost between £32k and £34,000? Say if we had it and we were to spend that, I know we don’t, but if we had, and we had a similar number of events in that particular space next year we would be back at the same position, yes?”
Explaining it ‘was a difficult one to answer’, Mr O’Hagan replied: “If you remember the last time, members would have seen the photos circulating on social media of the water pooling. That does happen on shale tracks when there is heavy rain, even with a drainage system.
“There were a lot of drains at the top of the site that were blocked and that has been added to the monthly inspection. We don’t believe that even with that heavy rain it would have been as bad as it currently is.
“This was to be a temporary fix essentially but it still wouldn’t have stopped water pooling. If there was heavy rain, regardless of events, there would be water pooling on that shale surface.
“The track is usable and it has been used since those events and since the flooding. It is no worse off now than it was this time last year so when we do have events and have heavy rain the same occurrence may happen. It is designed to be a running track not to hold large scale events.”
Concerned that the track would be no better off if the money was spent, councillor Brian Tierney said: “To spend between £32,000 and £34,000 on a temporary scheme in my mind isn’t great value for money when we have no idea whatsoever if we could be back in the same position next year.
“Effectively for us to put a sticking plaster around St Columb’s Park is going to cost £34,000 which is quite an expensive sticking plaster.
“The £8,500 we have put aside can it be used to design up a better scheme with better drainage and then when we get to that point look for funding elsewhere?”
Mr O’Hagan confirmed if that was the wish of committee members he would go to his colleagues in Capital and get them to take it forward in terms of procuring a team to design a long term solution.
Agreeing the cost calls into question the merits of a temporary solution with regards to value for money, Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson added: “At the last meeting we did highlight that a long term solution is needed. We can’t hold our breath every time an event is held to see what sort of damage is done.
“To spend over £30,000 of ratepayers money on a scheme we know is going to need a longer term solution doesn’t make sense.”
Officers will bring a report back on a long term solution.
Back in September, the surface of the track came in for heavy criticism with some users on social media branding it a “disgrace”, “an embarrassment” and one even labelling it “dangerous” after ongoing problems with drainage were highlighted after heavy rainfall and increased usage through events like the Waterside Half Marathon.
A number of local representatives at the time pledged to raise the track’s current condition which had seen the surface badly cut up and holding water, making it almost impossible for local clubs like the Derry Track Club to utilise the facility.
Speaking at the time, Derry Track Club treasurer, Malcolm McCausland, said: “The track is in a terrible state at the moment and it’s very sad to see given the amount of people who enjoy using i. Put simply, it is an embarrassment and reflects terribly on the city. Given that the wider St. Columb’s Park area is one of the jewels in the council’s crown and such a great public space, it doesn’t make any sense for one of the most popular parts of the park to be allowed to fall into this condition.”