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Saturday, 13th April 2019

Aura had a significant say in contract with council - Smith

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Councillor Pio Smith.

“Bad feeling could have been avoided if management had behaved in a respectful manner”

The story of the recently revamped changing rooms at the Aura Leisure Centre in Drogheda has taken many twists and turns but it seems there are still more twists in the tale.

The centre is a municipal facility that is owned by Louth County Council and managed on their behalf by Aura but, according to Councillor Pio Smith, the contract between the two parties precludes the council from having any say in how the centre is managed – even if it is to the detriment of community groups.

Reports began to emerge of the terrible state of the changing facilities at Aura Drogheda as far back as 2016 and the issue was first raised at the Borough District of Drogheda in February 2018.

At the time nobody seemed to know for sure who was responsible for the building and therefore who would be responsible for funding the repairs. The consensus was that the Council were responsible for the upkeep of the building and Aura for the safe operation of the swimming pool.

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That issue was sorted last August when a motion from Councillor Paul Bell “That this Council honour in full its contractual obligations to fund the maintenance and now urgently required refurbishment of the Aura Leisure Centre …” was unanimously adopted.

Work began on refurbishing the changing facilities at Aura and a fine job was done and both the Chief Executive and the Chairman of Louth County Council paid a rare visit to Drogheda to attend the official opening ceremony along with Aura management.

However, as the opening ceremony was happening, a group of senior citizens, was protesting outside about changes in the way Aura operated. Without any consultation they had been told by Aura management that the time of their water aerobics classes was to be changed from 11.00am to 9.00 am to facilitate increased access for school groups.

This was a big deal for the senior citizens as many of them suffer from disabilities and they find it difficult to arrange carers and travel across the town at a peak traffic time. The loss of their pool time caused great distress and isolation to many of them.

Councillor Smith contacted management about this issue and they agreed that proper consultation did not take place with the seniors, but they refused to reinstate the 11 am time slot.

“The irony is that even though the pool is a Municipal Facility Louth County Council have no power to intervene and have this issue addressed” Cllr. Smith said.

“In fact, it has come to my attention that Aura Management had a significant say in the drawing up of the contract between themselves and the council in regards to how the pool will be run.

“There is something seriously wrong when a state funded project is left in the hands of a private operator who can make decisions over and above the wishes of the council.

"In effect the seniors were disenfranchised in regards to their allotted time and in my opinion the actions of management go against the policies of Louth County Council in regards to supporting senior citizens being active members of the community.

“I am glad that there are more children using the pool, however a lot of bad feeling could have been avoided if management had behaved in a respectful manner and engaged with the Aqua aerobics Group to find an acceptable alternative time slot.”

Cllr. Smith said he will be raising this issue at the April meeting and examining if a new clause can be included in the contract when it comes up for renewal this year that safeguards the rights of groups using the pool.

This article was written by Andy Spearman

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