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Latest updates: Sinkhole opens up in Ripon

The scene at Ripon leisure centre on Friday night, with the area cordoned off.
The scene at Ripon leisure centre on Friday night, with the area cordoned off.

A sinkhole that opened up at Ripon Leisure Centre on Friday will not affect plans to build a new swimming pool for the city, Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) confirmed this morning.

A spokesperson for the council added that a structural engineer's report will, however, "influence the design of the new building", which will be built next to the leisure centre.

A cordon remains in place to the right of the entrance, where police officers were called out to give extra assistance to the fire service at 3.51pm on Friday afternoon, and the sinkhole is reported to be three or four metres in diameter.

Its depth has not been confirmed by emergency services or Harrogate Borough Council, and on Saturday Harrogate Borough Council's Emergency Planning Manager told the 'Gazette that staff had been carrying out hourly safety checks to monitor the site.

The full statement from HBC said: "The sinkhole will not affect the project to construct a new pool for Ripon. We are still waiting for the structural engineer’s report, which will influence the design of the new building. We’ve always known about the potential of sinkholes on the site which is why we’ve been carrying out tests to understand what foundations may be required."

Sections of the leisure centre's car park were first cordoned off for ground testing in January, for six to eight weeks of work to assess the site for the new pool.

One reader contacted the 'Gazette to raise their fears that the work could have been a trigger for the sinkhole.

But HBC said: "There is nothing to suggest the sinkhole is connected to three recent test drillings."

A Ripon leisure centre employee has praised his colleagues and emergency services for reacting quickly to the sinkhole.

The leisure centre reopened at 8am on Saturday morning, despite its dramatic closure and evacuation the day before.

Employee Kenneth Ferguson said the leisure centre team and emergency services stayed calm throughout, and commended their efforts.

He said: "Me and Mark, who was duty manager on Friday and Saturday, were talking about how well it went, how we kept calm and assessed the situation - making the decisions we did as a team before the emergency services and other support arrived, and during and after.

"You can do all the training you want, but when these things happen you never know how you are going to react. Thankfully the centre was not too busy, but we still had to be on the ball - especially when one man tried to ride his bike up to the bike rack and lock it, even though there was a tree that could fall at any moment and a hole just behind.

"We are a small team, but like a family and look out for each other as well as our customers."

Emergency Planning Manager, Ian Speirs, also praised leisure centre staff for their ongoing support and cooperation, as they continue to monitor the site.

Mr Speirs told the 'Gazette on Saturday: "The staff have been briefed and are monitoring to see if it gets any worse. This morning we reviewed it and there has been no change outside. It was agreed that it's safe to access the facility.

"If it looks like it's getting bigger, we will have it reassessed and look at closing the leisure centre. We activated the council's sinkhole action plan, and all our plans are in place to keep everyone nice and safe.

"The leisure centre is open, business as usual. Checks are being made every hour. The staff are all in really good spirits - they did a brilliant job, working really well with the fire service and helping to evacuate people from the leisure centre.

"They also had a constant stream of cups of tea which keeps fire and rescue happy."

Mr Speirs said the fire service warned there "potentially could have been a risk", but reassured residents that the area has been fully secured for public safety.

An on-site survey was carried out by a structural engineer on Friday, and Mr Speirs said a more specialist engineer will be called out next week to look at it.

He described the sinkhole, which opened up just behind the bike racks, as "three or four metres in diameter, fairly circular, with some water inside it.

Engineers and emergency services were on the scene until 9.30pm on Friday.

Mr Speirs said: "The leisure centre staff have really been quite overwhelmed with the support on social media, people asking if they're safe and well."

More on this story as we get it.

- Only last year Ripon was featured in a Channel 5 documentary series about sinkholes. The assistant producer of the series described the city as "the sinkhole capital of the UK." It featured interviews with Magdalen's Road residents still dealing with the aftermath of a 30ft deep sinkhole opening up in front of their homes.