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£0.7m Rathfern Social Activity Centre extension works due to get underway

Building work is due to commence next month on a new £700,000 extension for a community centre in Newtownabbey.

The expansion of Rathfern Social Activity Centre, at Knockenagh Avenue, had been put on hold by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in 2020 due to financial pressures following the temporary closure of services during the first lockdown.

The development was postponed due to a freeze on capital expenditure after reductions in planning and building control activity resulted in an immediate estimated loss of £750k income monthly.

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A contractor has now been appointed following a decision taken behind closed doors at a meeting of the local authority last month.

Rathfern Social Activity Centre, Newtownabbey. Pic: Google

Minutes of the meeting indicate planned completion of the refurbishment in November 2022. The facility is council-owned and operated in association with Rathfern Regeneration Group.

The £0.7m extension is to include a new dance studio and youth club hall, Changing Places toilet facility, sensory garden, cycle parking and benches.

Councillors had agreed to the building project at the community centre in April 2019. The development proposal had been recommended for approval after it was said to provide a “positive impact” within the wider community.

However, all capital projects had been deferred by the borough council in 2020/21 with the exception of the £6m crematorium at Doagh Road  due to concerns over a potential loss of income caused by the Covid pandemic.

The council said at the time “given the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic and the anticipated impact on the council’s financial position, all capital projects have been deferred with the exception of the crematorium”.

Commenting on the development, Project Co-ordinator Tommy Kirkham said that the project had been put back due to Covid and the centre is now at capacity.

However, he went on to say he is looking forward to it getting started and being finished in time for Christmas.

“We are at capacity at the minute. We should have been running for a year. It is a big deal for us in Rathfern.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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