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Plans to increase costs for recreation facilities across borough rejected

Increase 'would not be palatable' for ratepayer after recent rates rise

A proposal to increase the cost of health and recreational services provided by council has been rejected after an objection by the DUP.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s leisure committee considered a report by council officials this week, which recommended a 2.95% increase.

This would have covered all health and recreational services and facilities provided by council in the borough, including admissions costs to local leisure centres.

Only three elements – gym membership, swimming lessons and casual 18-hole golf usage – would have remained the same under the recommendation.

The general price rise would have seen a hike of 2.95%, rounded to the nearest five pence.

It was a move which would have brought in an additional £100,000 a year for council.

Councillors were told that since the amalgamation of the three councils, officers had “made significant progress in harmonising prices”.

But it was a ” large and diverse department” and, as a result, “there remains around 1000 individual prices for all our services”, according to the report to committee.

When the recommendation went to council, the Ulster Unionist Party Alderman Kenneth Twyble proposed the recommendation be accepted.

But the DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter, urged fellow councillors to turn down the proposal.

Speaking after the meeting, he told Armagh I : “Council officers brought a proposal to the monthly meeting to hike up prices in the borough’s leisure facilities by 2.95% in April, which we felt, although a modest rise, wouldn’t be palatable for the ratepayer, given the rate increase which was struck by council recently.

“I countered Alderman Twyble’s proposal to accept the recommendation .

“After some debate a vote was taken and I’m delighted that my proposal was carried and, as a result, council will not raise prices this year.”

As Councillor Baxter pointed out, his counter-proposal for a ‘freeze’ of costs is, of course, subject to full council ratification later this month.

But he is hopeful that it will stand.

“RPA was seen as a way to streamline services and essentially save money for constituents,” added Councillor Baxter.

“Efficiencies have been made but, as a party, we will continue to ensure that council provides a first class service balanced with prices that are acceptable to the ratepayer.”

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