PARENTS are being urged to ‘manage their children’s behaviour’ after vandals again struck the Ards Blair Mayne leisure centre in Newtownards.

    The main entrance into the £30m centre has had to be closed after vandals attacked the building when it was closed for the Christmas holiday. Because of the damage caused at the ‘blue door’ entrance to the complex, which opened less than four years ago, members of the public are being urged to use another entrance until repairs are carried out.

    The latest vandalism attack comes just weeks after Ards and North Down Council announced plans to erect eight-foot metal shutters at an open-air corridor which leads to the main entrance to the complex in a bid to limit further attacks.

    The council has confirmed the latest vandalism took place when the leisure centre was closed between December 24 and 26 and has left the centre with ‘potential hazards’ such as falling broken glass. It is the latest in a long line of attacks on the complex which have been ongoing for several years.

    According to a council spokesman, the attacks are depleting council resources and costing ratepayers. “It is extremely disappointing to see continued anti-social behaviour and damage at a facility that caters for all residents in the Borough,” said the spokesman. “The incidents are eating into council resources and are costing the ratepayer money while also affecting the staff’s ability to provide a complete service to centre users,” he added. The council has been working closely with other agencies, such as the PSNI and the Policing and Community Safety Partnership, in a bid to resolve the problem ‘holistically’.

    However, the council spokesman has urged parents to be ‘wary of where their children are’. “Many of our partners, both statutory and community, are working together to tackle this problem holistically,” he said. “Education, interventions and diversionary activities through to enforcement all play important roles in preventing anti-social behaviour, but ultimately it is up to parents to know where their children are and to manage their behaviour,” the spokesman added.

    All incidents of harassment and vandalism have been reported to the PSNI, however, those with information have been encouraged to contact police on 101.

    The council’s Planning Committee recently approved plans to build a heavy metal shutter that will close off a sheltered area outside the main entrance to the leisure centre, as well as permanently fixing a large net above the shutter. Council planning head Ann McCullough told the committee that the shutter would ‘keep perpetrators outside and away from the most affected area, ie the ‘blue wall’ entrance corridor and entrance doors’.

    The net, she added, should bounce any thrown rubbish or other objects back down to accumulate at the base of the shutter from where ‘it should then be easily lifted’. “It’s expected that the shutter will be graffitied,” she said, “but staff will monitor this accordingly.”

    Council officials also expect that youths will still gather at the centre after hours, and will certainly kick footballs against the shutter – but the net should stop them kicking balls over the shutter. “The roller shutter will secure the area out of hours,” said Ms McCullough. “It’s to discourage the congregating of people [at the entrance corridor].”