Northern Ireland news

Belfast council says no to removing Peter Robinson name from leisure centre

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson, and the old Robinson Centre which is being redeveloped by Belfast City Council
Brendan Hughes

A COUNCIL has declared that ex-DUP leader Peter Robinson's name will not be removed from a new leisure centre after seeking legal advice.

After five months of deliberations, the Robinson Centre has been deemed not to breach council policy on naming public leisure facilities.

But correspondence obtained by The Irish News reveals further calls for the name to be changed to "something non-contentious" and no longer be a "monument to the Robinson dynasty".

The old Robinson Centre in Castlereagh has been demolished and the site is currently being redeveloped into a new multi-million-pound leisure facility and aquatic centre.

It was originally named after Mr Robinson in the 1980s by Castlereagh Borough Council when he was a councillor and MP aged in his mid-thirties.

The centre was transferred to Belfast City Council (BCC) in 2015 after the previous 26 local authorities were merged into 11 'supercouncils'.

BCC adopted a denies recent critical remarks were aimed at Arlene Fosterdenies recent critical remarks were aimed at Arlene Fosterpolicy in 2008 which states that leisure facilities can only be named after people if they have been deceased for at least five years, or they have made a significant financial contribution to the facility.

The policy also says names that are "party-political in intention or use" will not be considered.

Read more: Peter Robinson denies recent critical remarks were aimed at Arlene Foster 

In July, SDLP activist Séamas de Faoite wrote to the council querying its naming policy after it said there were no plans to change the Robinson Centre's name.

In a letter responding in early December, BCC's director of city and neighbourhood services Nigel Grimshaw said the matter had been considered by the council's legal services department.

"As the facility which is currently under construction is a replacement of the previous Robinson Centre and not a 'new' facility the council does not agree with the interpretation that this contravenes its policy framework for the (re)naming of parks and leisure facilities," Mr Grimshaw said.

"The retention of the name for the redeveloped facility is therefore in line with the policy which notes, 'parks and facilities which have been officially named shall retain the existing names, and the re-naming of parks and leisure facilities is strongly discouraged'."

Mr Grimshaw added that any proposal to re-name a facility should be requested through a council committee and must be accompanied by consultation evidence which "demonstrates that there is substantial community support for the proposed name change".

Mr de Faoite has called for the Robinson Centre to be re-named, saying that there is "no room for political ego-trips" in modern councils.

The former East Belfast assembly candidate said: "When is new not new? Belfast City Council has tied itself in linguistic knots to try to suggest that this is not a new aquatic centre, despite their own website stating it is, at least seven times.

"This issue is far from over. Belfast City Council has a responsibility to follow their own policy and stop ratepayers' money being used to further political ego trips. The old Castlereagh days are over."

The Robinson Centre was closed in February 2015 due to health and safety concerns over asbestos. BCC later approved its demolition and the construction on the same site of a new leisure facility, which is due to open in summer 2019.

Read more: Belfast City Council's five-month silence on Peter Robinson name for leisure centre

Emails obtained by The Irish News through a Freedom of Information request show that others have called for the Robinson Centre name to be changed.

In July, one resident told the council the "area does not need a monument to the Robinson dynasty".

They had previously emailed in February, saying the name should be changed to "something non-contentious" and that a council official had said at an information day that "several other attendees had also expressed the same sentiment".

In July, another letter was sent proposing a new name to recognise two swimming teachers, given the new facility's focus on an aquatic centre.

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