Hundreds of swimming pools across the country are said to be at risk of closing down as a result of rising energy bills.
Gyms and leisure centres have resorted to desperate measures to keep their businesses afloat, and have begun lowering pool temperatures and turning the lights down.
Some 85 per cent of public pool operators said they would be forced to reduce services in the next six months to cope with increasing running costs, while 63 per cent said they would be likely to cut staff, a survey by UKActive has found.
As inflation hits a 40-year high, and with little government support to mitigate the financial pressure, pool owners fear the sector could collapse, with the cost of running a pool now expected to rise from £500m in 2019 to £1.5bn this year.
“[Pool operators] are really struggling. They have been trying to put a plaster on this over the past couple of months. But the reality is, they can’t see a way through this unless there is government intervention,” said the chief executive of UKActive, Huw Edwards.
Rising energy costs are not the sole cause of the threat to swimming pools. Even before the current crisis, half of the country’s 4,000-plus pools were estimated to be at risk of closure.
A pre-pandemic report in 2019 estimated that some 1,800 pools would shut by 2030, as the structures became too old and expensive to upgrade.
However, mounting debts following the pandemic, along with soaring energy costs, mean that this number is likely to be much higher, according to Swim England, who say that every pool is potentially at risk of closure.
A coalition of swimming and exercise bodies – thought to include Swim England and the Local Government Association – will plead for more action and support in a letter to culture secretary Nadine Dorries and communities secretary Michael Gove.
“We are saying that discussion needs to happen in the coming days with central government, local government and industry leaders. We need to set out the enormity of this situation and set all options on the table,” Mr Edwards said.
“The shadow hanging over all this is that we are hosting the Commonwealth Games in July and August. We can’t be in a position of celebrating one of the biggest sporting events in the world while community facilities across the country are under the threat of closure.”
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