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Temporary closure of pools due to energy costs ‘the tip of the iceberg’

The temporary closure of pools and money-saving measures such as reducing water temperature due to spiralling energy costs is ‘the tip of the iceberg’, the Government has been warned.

Not-for-profit charitable leisure and cultural trust Freedom Leisure manages more than 60 pools at more than 100 facilities nationwide – teaching 62,000 children to swim on a weekly basis – and has revealed the massive impact increased costs have on utility bills.  

Bills at just three of its sites alone have soared by more than £1 million pounds a year since 2019.

Freedom is now temporarily shutting two pools and its chief executive, Ivan Horsfall Turner, has predicted further closures will be inevitable unless more support is given to the sector.

Swim England is calling for the ‘vulnerable’ industry to receive additional financial help to ensure ‘vital’ pools, which are a lifeline to millions of people, are not forced to close.

The Government last month announced a six-month Energy Bill Relief Scheme for non-domestic customers, which will provide discounts on wholesale gas and electricity prices.

Operators have said while the measures will help, they will not be able to absorb the huge increases they have seen on bills in recent months.

Even under the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, one Freedom Leisure pool has seen its bill go from £180,000 per year to more than £600,000 per year.

The scheme will be reviewed after three months by the Government before a decision on any further support from March 2023 onwards is taken.

However, Mr Horsfall Turner said: “The reality is that if the Government support does not increase in the review, then it is highly likely facilities will shut.

“We are closely monitoring energy use across all our sites and have taken all steps we can but the scale of the problem is too severe so, reluctantly, we have had to temporarily close two of our pools.

Extremely concerning

“My firm belief is that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We and others will unfortunately be managing a whole series of closures as the capped rates are still extremely high and will make many services unviable.”

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, said it was saddening and alarming to see pools be forced to close.

She said: “Despite seeing a recovery in the past 18 months, our sector remains vulnerable following the coronavirus pandemic due to the huge increased costs for both local authorities who are facing increased demand for their services and inflationary cost pressures and pool operators, who utilised their reserves to get through the pandemic.

“Now it is now facing another crisis which threatens the future of so many facilities.

“It’s extremely concerning that operators have no other choice but to close pools as they cannot afford to keep them open in the face of spiralling energy costs.

“People rely on these vital facilities for their physical and mental wellbeing as well as for teaching children a life skill that could one day save their life. It will be a travesty if the Government doesn’t recognise how valuable they are to society.

“In recent correspondence the Minister for Sport confirmed that DCMS officials are ‘exploring all available options to support the sector’ – at Swim England we will be continuing to highlight the challenges being faced, as well as the important role pools play in local communities ahead of the review into the Energy Bill Relief Scheme and putting our strong case forward on why operators and local authorities must receive additional help.

“Ensuring millions of people are able to get active, reducing pressures on the NHS and social care system and teaching children how to be safe in, on and around the water is certainly worth the necessary investment.

“With ill health also costing the economy more than £100 billion each year there is also a compelling economic case to supporting these facilities.

“We would encourage our members to back the cause by contacting their MP and share their personal stories on why being active in the water is so important to them.

“By doing so, we hope our loud voices will be impossible to ignore.”

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