Harrogate council insists Ripon Leisure Centre is 'safe to use' despite ground investigation concerns
Senior council officials have insisted Ripon Leisure Centre is "safe to use" despite the discovery of an underground void revealing the need for further investigation works.
Members of Harrogate Borough Council's cabinet last night approved the works after an initial investigation into the void suggested there has been a "significant deterioration" of the ground beneath the older half of the centre which was built in 1995.
The findings from engineering firm Stantec also said strengthening works and a six-month closure will be required next year, although the centre's new swimming pool due to open on 8 December will not be affected.
Speaking at last night's meeting, Michael Constantine, head of operations at Harrogate Borough Council, said several strengthening methods had been suggested similar to those used for the new pool.
He said: "All of those will be brought forward by Stantec following the investigation works to achieve a strength in a building that unfortunately it doesn't have at the moment, although the building, as we are assured by our consultants, is safe to use.
"Stantec has also been clear that the first floor facilities can continue in operation during the investigation."
Councillor Stanley Lumley, cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport at the council, added: “We have got professional engineers, designers and consultants on the site and we have to take advice from them.
"That’s why we pay them, that's why we employ them - and we should surely act on that advice."
The void is understood to have been beneath the older half of the centre for several years and was discovered near where a sinkhole opened up in 2018.
The initial investigations covered around 15% of the building's footprint and the remainder will now be surveyed from January.
During the strengthening works that will follow, the older half of the centre will close for around six months and the council said it would look to provide gym facilities at a different venue in Ripon which is one of the UK’s most sinkhole-prone areas.
The closures will mean the centre - which was due to be refurbished and open its new pool earlier this year - will not fully reopen until mid-2022.
Construction firm Willmott Dixon was awarded a £10.2m contract for these works in 2019 but there have been several delays, most of which the council said were due to the pandemic.
The new pool is being built as a replacement for the 116-year-old Ripon Spa Baths which closed on Sunday.
The historic building was put up for sale by Harrogate Borough Council this year before it was nominated as an asset of community value following a successful application by Ripon City Council.
This protected status means any sale has now been put on hold for six months to allow time for bids to come forward.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter