Hundreds of swimming pools across Britain are facing closure because they are unable to cope with rising energy bills.
Pool operators are planning to reduce opening hours, turn down the temperature of the water and even ask swimmers to reduce the time they spend in the showers to save money.
Almost nine in ten public pool operators said they would need to reduce their service in the next six months, according to leisure and swimming body UKActive. Two-thirds said they would probably need to cut staff number to cope.
UKActive chief executive Huw Edwards described the results of the survey as ‘stark’ and predicted that without government assistance there would be permanent closures.
‘They [the operators] are really struggling,’ he said. ‘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.
‘I would like to see a real change in urgency around this. We are talking about hundreds of facilities that support hundreds of thousands of visitors, if not millions, each week.’
It has been calculated the cost of heating Britain’s pools could rise to £1.25 billion this year, from £500 million in 2019.
Hundreds of swimming pools across Britain are facing closure because they are unable to cope with rising energy bills, with pool operators planning to turn down temperatures of water (file photo)
Even before the energy crisis, a 2019 report found that about 1,800 of the UK’s 4,000-plus pools would have to shut by 2030 as they became too old and expensive to upgrade. The situation has only worsened with debts piling up because of Covid closures.
A coalition of bodies is preparing to send a letter to Culture and Sport Secretary Nadine Dorries and Communities Minister Michael Gove on Monday. It will cite the problem facing pools, leisure facilities and gyms and is expected to be supported by Swim England and other bodies including the Local Government Association.
Edwards said: ‘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. The shadow hanging over all this is that we are hosting the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham] 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.’
Mark Sesnan, chief executive of leisure firm GLL, which operates 135 facilities with public pools, told the Financial Times the situation was a ‘nightmare’, ‘harder than the Covid challenge’ and ‘an existential threat to swimming’.
Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has already met Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston to raise concerns.
She said the swimming pools needed a bailout now, adding: ‘At the moment swimming is not viable unless it’s supported.
‘Our real worry is that doors will just shut because operators will find they can’t afford to run their pools.’
Earlier this month, Mr Huddleston responded to a parliamentary question on the impact of rising energy costs on publicly owned leisure facilities such as swimming pools and gyms. He said the Department for Culture and Sport ‘recognised the impact rising energy prices will have on businesses of all sizes’, adding: ‘Ofgem and the Government are in regular contact with business groups and suppliers to understand the challenges they face and explore ways to protect consumers and businesses.
‘The ongoing responsibility of providing access to public leisure facilities lies at local authority level, and the government continues to encourage local authorities to invest in leisure facilities.’