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Support for Larne Swimming Club amid fears for future due to ‘council swim plan’

The Alliance Party has accused Mid and East Antrim Borough Council of “not putting people first” over the future of Larne Swimming Club.

Speaking at a meeting of the council on Monday evening, Larne Lough Councillor Danny Donnelly said that the swimming club feels that its “existence is under threat” over council plans to “take over a learn to swim programme”.

He asked the council to refrain from “any aggressive moves to take over the programme” and for the issue to be debated in the chamber.

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Larne Swimming Club believes it could be “out of business” after the local authority decided to extend its own swimming lessons programme at its three leisure centres.

Larne Leisure Centre

The decision was taken at a meeting behind closed doors last July when councillors agreed to the expansion of the “MeAqua Academy” at Larne Leisure Centre, Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena and Amphitheatre, Carrickfergus to provide swimming lessons mainly for schoolchilden with swimming club lessons due to cease from April.

Larne Lough Councillor Robert Logan commented: “The swimming club were unfortunately not put first.”

He pointed out that Larne Swimming Club pays almost £35,000 into the council coffers.

He went on to say that “sufficient detail” had not been provided to councillors over the proposed expansion of the  “MeAqua Academy” and that the proposer and seconder were not aware of the “detrimental impact being visited upon the swimming clubs”.

Cllr Logan called for an “urgent, open meeting” with the clubs to which he said elected members should be invited.

He was informed by a director that “quite often our partners liaise with us throughout weeks and months”.

She said that a report will be brought to next month’s council meeting for elected members to consider.

Chairperson Laura O’Mahony said recently that revenue from the club’s  swimming lessons makes the £32,000 rent “affordable”  at Larne Leisure Centre and to lose it will “put us out of business”.

“We have been told there are other ways for swimming clubs to survive,” she commented.

“Our swimmers will probably disperse to different clubs, possibly Ards, Bangor and Belfast.

“We are a very high achieving club. We have an Olympic swimmer who takes eight hours a week of her training schedule to coach poolside but none of it seems to matter.

“The council does not see the benefit in the club being there. It is about making a poor financial decision with regard to their leisure centre.”

Larne Swimming Club has 162 “learners” and 50 children on the waiting list. It has a 120-strong membership and 12 coaches including one Olympian and currently holds 19 Ulster and 14 Irish records.

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was strongly criticised by Larne and Ballymena swimming clubs for remaining shut for an extended period  at the end of the first lockdown in 2020 despite being allowed to reopen by the Northern Ireland Executive.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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Larne Swimming Club’s fears it could be ‘out of business’