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Beyond Birmingham 2022 report: West Midlands facing shortage of pools

The eyes of the world have been on Birmingham and the West Midlands for a hugely successful Commonwealth Games – yet the region is facing a worrying shortage of swimming pools, according to a new report.

Beyond Birmingham 2022: The Future of Aquatics in the West Midlands states that 14 of the 15 most deprived local authorities in the region currently has a shortage of water space – and the situation is only expected to get worse.

The region has a current deficit of 15 pools – and this is forecast to rise to 93 by 2040.

Swim England is now calling on the Government and local authorities to do everything in their power to prevent millions of youngsters missing out on the chance to learn a vital life skill.

The Beyond Birmingham 2022 report warns that the sharpest fall in facilities will be those that support community activity – with 40 per cent of learn to swim eligible pools at risk of closure or project to shut in the next 18 years.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, warned there can be ‘no lasting impact from a home Games’ if investment isn’t provided for the pools needed to enable people to take part.

She said: “The excitement of the Commonwealth Games coming to the West Midlands has been fantastic.

“Seeing the buzz generated by Team England athletes at the very top of their game and winning medals is a proud moment which will inspire future generations to emulate their heroes.

“However, the biggest benefit of swimming to society is not in the comparatively small number of elite athletes, as brilliant and celebrated as they rightly are.

“The immense value of swimming lies in the transformational power it can have for the health and wellbeing of people of all ages, in communities up and down the country, helping them lead healthier and happier lives.

“It is in the huge savings it can make for our cherished NHS and social care system.

Lasting impact

“It is in the way it can equip every child with a skill that could one day save their life.

“The wonderful aquatics centre at Sandwell, and the work of councils like Dudley and Walsall shows the benefits of investing in pools – both in terms of environmental improvements and economically with new facilities attracting more customers.

“We need to ensure that investment in a new generation of pools is realised across the rest of the West Midlands and beyond.

“Once the excitement of seeing Team England athletes on top of the podium fades, there can be no lasting impact from these home Games without the pools we need for people to use – both across the West Midlands and the rest of the country.”

The value of facilities is shown but the fact weekly swimming participation in England saves the NHS and social care system more than £357 million each year – with the figure for the West Midlands alone £35 million.

Every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity also delivers a return on investment of £3.91 for individuals and society.

The Beyond Birmingham 2022 report is calling for the Government to provide necessary support for pools – both in the short-term to help facilities cope with rising energy prices and longer term by ensuring there is capital investment to build new pools or refurbish existing ones so that everyone can continue to access the water.

Local authorities are also being encouraged to conduct a strategic needs assessment of the pool space they require, now and in the future.

Councils should also include leisure facilities in applications for available schemes such as the public sector decarbonisation scheme and Levelling Up Fund.

Beyond Birmingham follows on from Swim England’s Decade of Decline report published last year, which warned 2,000 swimming pools could be lost forever by 2030 unless the Government and local authorities took action to replace or refurbish ageing facilities.

To read the Beyond Birmingham 2022: The Future of Aquatics in the West Midlands report in full, please click here.