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Saturday, 24 February

Sinking Feeling Over Leisure Facilities

Leisure centres could fall into a state of disrepair and even be forced to close without urgent new investment from government, councils have warned.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says government will miss a chance to transform the nation’s health if it does not inject new funding into leisure infrastructure in the Autumn Budget.

It warns that the majority of council owned sports halls and swimming pools are at risk of becoming old and tired as local authorities’ budgets become increasingly squeezed, leaving them unable to afford the cost of refurbishments.

Councils are just about managing to keep leisure facilities running but in many cases, these facilities are coming to the end of their lifespan.

Latest figures show that more than 58 per cent of sports halls and 60 per cent of swimming pools are now more than 20 years old. Nearly a quarter of these have not been refurbished in 20 years.

This follows years of funding cuts to councils’ budgets, where between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion to their core government funding. The LGA says the funding gap facing councils will be £5.8 billion by the end of the decade.

Councils are currently having to plough all their existing resources into meeting the increasing demand for services such as adult and children’s social care and tackling homelessness, at the expense of investing in leisure facilities.

With many sports halls and swimming pools reaching the end of their 25 year life-cycle, the LGA says government has an opportunity in the Budget to invest new money that “breathes new life into the country’s leisure facilities and improves the health of communities.

In its Budget submission to Treasury, the LGA is calling on government to introduce a £400 million funding pot to pay for improvements. It says that this would allow councils to upgrade and renovate facilities to the standard needed.

Councils are exploring opportunities for commercial investment to develop new wellbeing centres, but this is not always suitable for certain areas, in particular those in small urban and rural locations where there are smaller populations.

The submission adds that new funding from government is needed now to avoid having to completely replace facilities, which could cost in the region of £1.5 billion further down the line.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: "No-one wants to go to a leisure centre that is old, tired and run down. Councils need to be given the resources to offer the kind of high-standard, modern facilities that the public rightly expects which in turn helps them keep fit and healthy.

“Councils are doing all they can to keep leisure centres up and running, but many are in desperate need of refurbishment.

“Government has a chance in the Autumn Budget to breathe new life into our leisure centres which saves them from falling beyond repair and forcing them to close.”

Picture: Sink or swim - council leisure facilities may need to close without investment in refurbishment and maintenance

Article written by Cathryn Ellis

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