Councillors angry over Groomsport pool changes…

SAFETY fears saw the council replace Groomsport’s prized paddling pool with a £120,000 ‘paddling bowl’, a senior official has admitted.

But councillors criticised community and wellbeing director Graeme Bannister for failing to keep them informed about design changes to the project, resulting in politicians getting it in the neck from furious members of the public.

Ards and North Down Council has replaced the old paddling pool with a splash pad and a smaller paddling area.

The old pool was showing its age, and in recent years has had to be shut down for repairs on more than one occasion.

The new facilities would both freshen up the area and make the attraction more accessible for kids with mobility problems, and won the enthusiastic backing of area councillors.

But when the new paddling pool opened at the start of this year’s summer season, dejected children found it struggled to hold water, denying them their usual splash on sunny days.

Now Mr Bannister has revealed that the design of the new paddling pool was changed during the construction process, as safety experts had objected to the council’s original plans for the site.

But he did attempt to deflect the full force of criticism aimed at officials, repeatedly insisting that the splash pad, which makes up around two-thirds of the site, was built ‘exactly as approved’.

He told a meeting of Ards and North Down Council last Wednesday night that safety experts declared that ‘the gradient of the smaller pool wasn’t safe’, leading to a design change.

“What we have now is almost like a shallow bowl, rather than a proper little pool,” he said. “As a result of that the water does not gather as easily.

“It runs away quicker, and there’s not as much therefore to play in if you’re a young child.

“Everything that was installed was in accordance with the council’s decision [to replace the paddling pool] with the exception of that gradient, which was a safety issue that we had to change.”

He added that the council will now try to increase the flow of water into the paddling bowl.

His words didn’t mollify councillors, with the Mayor, Jennifer Gilmour, pointing out that officials didn’t tell politicians that the approved design of the new paddling pool had been redrawn until after the facility was already finished.

Councillor Janice MacArthur complained: “What should have been a paddling pool is now a little trough with water coming out of it.

“It might wet your toe, but that’s about it,” she said.

“What we have is very underwhelming – potentially unattractive, I dare to say – despite the huge price tag.”

And councillor David Chambers stated that local residents are blaming politicians for the unpopular paddling bowl, when the changes had been carried out by officials who didn’t consult councillors.

“I find those comments wholly unfair,” he said. “I’m happy enough to take criticism where it’s merited, but [councillors] worked extremely hard behind the scenes to try to get an agreement that would benefit the community and reflect what they wanted.

“That was a hybrid design, an element of splash pad and an element of the traditional paddling pool that is so synonymous with Groomsport.

“It’s quite right that some people out there feel they were somehow duped or hoodwinked. People feel it offers very little in terms of fun or entertainment for young kids.”