Council presses ahead with over 60s gym hike

Council presses ahead with over 60s gym hike

5 July 2017

PLANS to introduce a £180 annual gym membership fee for pensioners using council facilities have been postponed for a year.

The controversial charge has been deferred until the new Downpatrick leisure centre opens next summer.

The decision was confirmed at a meeting of Newry Mourne 

and Down Council on Monday evening following a backlash against the charge, which represents a 5,000 per cent increase on the current fee.

Historically, the former Down Council requested a nominal annual fee of £3.60 from over 60s, which permitted access to the swimming pool, sauna, steam room and gym.

The flagship policy was maintained by the previous council in a bid to encourage health and fitness.

However, the new Newry, Mourne and Down Council has now agreed to implement the £180 annual membership fee, which is equivalent to £15 per month, for gym membership only in a bid to rationalise its pricing structure across the former Down and Newry and Mourne Council areas. Access to the swimming pool, sauna and steam room will still be available for £3.60 per year.

The move is intended to help the council meet its target of reducing the costs of running its leisure centres from £3.14m to £2.53m by 2021. It is expected to affect 80 over-60s in Downpatrick, 51 at Ballymote and 164 in Newcastle.

Council director, Mike Lipsett, emphasised that the charges would not apply to over 60s who are referred to the leisure facilities by GPs who will still avail of free gym access.

The decision to defer the hike in gym membership was made after councillors expressed concern that the fee would be unfair due to the old facilities currently available.

Downpatrick councillor Gareth Sharvin said he thought it was prudent to wait until the new leisure centre opens.

“I think £15 per month would be unfair for the facilities they have at the moment,” he said.

Castlewellan councillor Stephen Burns said the local council was still the lowest priced in Northern Ireland and the southern border counties.

Killyleagh councillor William Walker said he welcomed the clarity over charging and said it was unfortunate some councillors had “hyped tensions” among over 60s without being clear about continued access to the swimming pool and the availability of the free GP referral.

“I would urge people over 60 to go to their GP to get referred, which means access is free of charge,” he said.

However, councillor Cadogan Enright said £15 per month was “quite a strong hit” to those on a standard pension.

“We had a longstanding policy of pensioners having fee or nearly free access to the leisure centre and it is a big change to move from that without considering why we are doing it and what the health considerations might be,” he said.”It seems to me that the policy we had in Down District Council should have been extended across Newry and Mourne.”