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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

MEA Council does U-turn after backlash

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has done a U-turn over its swimming programme after a backlash from Larne Swimming Club.

It was agreed behind closed doors at this month’s meeting of the council to halt the planned extension of the local authority’s MeAqua swimming programme.

Larne Swimming Club has expressed concern that it could be “out of business” after the borough council decided to extend its own swimming lessons programme at its three leisure centres.

The club has said that revenue from its swimming lessons makes the £32,000 rent “affordable” at Larne Leisure Centre and to lose it would put it “out of business”.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said:

“At the full council meeting on 9 May, elected members agreed to maintain the current pool time allocation for the two swimming clubs, learn to swim programmes, with the position to be reviewed in 12 months’ time.”

Commenting on the decision, Larne Swimming Club chairperson Laura O’Mahony said:

“MEAqua Academy proposed to introduce a programme which would have resulted in not only the loss our swimming clubs but a reduction in availability for children to learn to swim in our borough.

“Thankfully with support from our local councillors and parents, this plan has been amended to allow both the new Aqua Academy and our swimming clubs to co-exist as we have done for the last 52 years.

“Larne and Ballymena Swimming Clubs provide a pathway for children to remain in sport for their physical and mental well-being. So it’s fantastic news that we are able to continue.

“Our clubs currently contribute a large percentage of our leisure centres revenue each year through our pool fees and extra footfall from parents using the facilities while their children swim. Although both clubs recognise that all prices are rising we hope that any increase is incremental and doesn’t cause any further barriers for children to stay in sport.”

Club member and coach Olympic swimmer Danielle Hill said:

“I am delighted with the outcome. Larne Swimming Club has given me the opportunity to achieve my dreams of becoming an Olympian.

“We have now been given the chance to continue to allow the young people of Larne and beyond to dream their own dream – and the council should also take great pride in being part of that journey over coming years.”

Coach Peter Hill said:

“I am delighted that common sense has prevailed and that the children of Larne can continue to have a choice of learn to swim providers. We look forward to a long and successful partnership with a council and hope for their continued support as we seek to provide an excellent aquatic experience for all.”

Commenting on the decision, Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke, said:

“I absolutely support exploring any measure which could help us move towards low rates. But undermining the financial viability of our main pool user risks making the situation worse.

“Hopefully the club can now focus on doing what it does best. Thanks for your energy, and apologies for your stress.”

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.

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