Underground hole discovery at Ripon Leisure Centre prompts investigation

The discovery of an underground void at Ripon Leisure Centre has prompted the need for an investigation.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 7:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 7:26 pm
The discovery of the underground void was made by construction crews working on Ripon Leisure Centre's new swimming pool.

Construction crews working on the centre's new swimming pool made the discovery last year before the hole was filled with gravel as a "short term solution" and engineering experts said a geological survey should be undertaken.

Harrogate Borough Council - which owns the leisure centre - is now set to spend £110,000 on investigating what caused the hole, how long it has been there and how to permanently fix it.

A council spokesperson said in a statement that the void is understood to have been beneath the site for "a number of years".

The spokesperson said: “As a result of the reduced level dig – to prepare the new swimming pool site – for the casting of the reinforced concrete foundation slab, a void was discovered under an area of the existing leisure centre.

“While this will need to be resolved, we are fortunate that it was discovered as part of the multi-million pound Ripon Leisure Centre improvement project, and we can now carry out the necessary remedial works in the coming months."

Ripon is one of the UK's most sinkhole-prone cities. It sits above a layer of gypsum - a water-soluble rock that leads to the formation of large underground caves that can collapse.

In 2018, a sinkhole was discovered at the leisure centre before works on the new swimming pool and refurbishment project were given a go-ahead to start a year later.

Two years earlier, another sinkhole saw 12 properties on Magdalens Road evacuated in 2016, while a council-run project to build a block of homes was abandoned in 2019 due to the geological risk.

Michael Constantine, the council's head of culture, tourism and sport, said in a report that in order to investigate the newly-discovered void, the council will have to self-insure as its contractors, nor their sub-contractors, have been able to get covered.

He said: "Although the insurance market has been investigated it is understood that no insurance is available either directly or via contractors to mitigate a non-negligent event.

"The initial estimate for the investigation element of the works is £110,000 with the remediation strategy to be informed by the investigation phase."

Senior councillors will be asked to approve funding the investigation at a cabinet meeting next Wednesday.

Construction firm Willmott Dixon was awarded a £10.2 million contract to build the new swimming pool and refurbish the leisure centre in 2019. The first floor of the leisure centre has been completed, while the rest of the works are due to be completed by the end of the year.

The works are being carried out as a replacement for the 116-year-old Ripon Spa Baths which has been put up for sale by the council despite protests from local councillors and residents.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter