‘They completely knacked it up’: Former Harrogate council criticised over decision to upgrade Ripon leisure centre on unstable land

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Former leaders at the defunct Harrogate Borough Council have been criticised for their decision to upgrade a leisure centre on unstable land in Ripon despite warnings.

It comes as North Yorkshire Council confirmed it would spend another £2 million pumping grout to stabilise the ground underneath Ripon Leisure Centre, taking the total cost of the works to an eye-watering £8.5 million.

Ripon’s Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre opened in March 2022 but whilst the pool is in use, plans for a gym at the existing leisure centre on the same site were delayed after an underground void was discovered.

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This prompted an investigation which found evidence of multiple voids and “significantly weak” areas of ground beneath the older half of the leisure centre that was built in 1995.

The former Harrogate Borough Council has been criticised for their decision to upgrade a leisure centre on unstable landThe former Harrogate Borough Council has been criticised for their decision to upgrade a leisure centre on unstable land
The former Harrogate Borough Council has been criticised for their decision to upgrade a leisure centre on unstable land

Ripon is susceptible to voids and sinkholes because it lies on a layer of water-soluble rock called gypsum.

Last month, the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed the council had already pumped almost 3,000 tonnes of grout beneath the leisure centre to stabilise the ground.

In an update released to the public on Monday (May 20), the council said this work would continue.

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The decision-making Conservative-run executive is set to approve a further £2 milion being spent at a meeting next week.

Councillor Andrew Williams (Conservative and Independent Group – Ripon Minster and Moorside) told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Harrogate Borough Council handed the new unitary authority “a lemon” in the leisure centre.

He said: “Harrogate council should have known and did know about the sinkhole issues but they belligerent ploughed ahead.

"They were transfixed with it because they owned it and thought it would be cheaper.

"They completely and utterly knacked it up.”

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Councillor Williams said he was grateful to the new council for the works to stabilise the ground.

He added: “I welcome the ongoing commitment by the executive to invest in Ripon to have the facilities we need.

"I’m dreadfully sorry North Yorkshire Council are having to pick up the pieces by an authority that no longer exists.”

Retired chartered engineer Stanley Mackintosh campaigned against the site being used for the leisure centre due to the gypsum issues.

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He believes that the new leisure centre will never be built on the site and it should be built in the west of the city instead, where the ground is more stable.

Mr Mackintosh told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The 1995 leisure centre should not have been built there in the first place.

"Any and all groundwork and building construction at this gypsum-blighted site makes matters worse.”

North Yorkshire Council’s Conservative Executive Member for Leisure, Councillor Simon Myers, said: “Whilst Harrogate Borough Council estimated the cost of the ground stabilisation before work started, the nature of the geology issues in Ripon meant that it was difficult to forecast it with a high degree of certainty.

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“More grout has been needed to stabilise this building and we estimate that we now need an additional £2 million.

“It is disappointing that the overall project is now estimated at £8.5 million but we believe Ripon deserves good quality leisure facilities.

“If we had decided not to proceed with the stabilisation works and looked to move the leisure centre side of the operation to another area, we would have had the pool and leisure centre in separate locations which is not only more costly for us to operate, but also not the best option for customers either.”

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