Now hundreds of public swimming pools are at risk of closure as rising energy bills mean it’s too expensive to heat the water
- Pool operators plan to cut opening hours and lower temperatures
- Nearly nine in ten public school operators say they need to cut service
- UK swimming pool heating could hit £1.25bn in 2022, up from £500m
Hundreds of swimming pools across Britain are under threat of closure as they are unable to cope with rising energy bills.
Pool operators plan to reduce hours of operation, lower water temperatures and even ask swimmers to reduce the time they spend in showers to save money.
Almost nine in ten public pool operators said they would have to reduce their service over the next six months, according to leisure and swimming body UKActive. Two-thirds said they would likely need to downsize to cope.
UKActive chief executive Huw Edwards described the survey results as “stark” and predicted that without government help there would be permanent closures.
‘They [the operators] are really struggling,” he said. “They’ve been trying to put a plaster on it for the last two months. But the reality is that they cannot see a way out unless there is government intervention.
“I would like to see real emergency change around this. We are talking about hundreds of facilities that welcome hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of visitors each week.
It has been calculated that the cost of heating UK swimming pools could reach £1.25billion this year, up from £500million in 2019.
Hundreds of swimming pools across Britain are under threat of closure because they are unable to cope with rising energy bills, with pool operators planning to lower water temperatures ( archive photo)
Even before the energy crisis, a 2019 report found that around 1,800 of the UK’s more than 4,000 swimming pools were set to close by 2030 as they were getting too old and expensive to upgrade. The situation has only gotten worse with the debts piling up due to the Covid shutdowns.
A coalition of bodies are preparing to send a letter to Culture and Sport Secretary Nadine Dorries and Communities Minister Michael Gove on Monday. He will cite the problem facing swimming pools, leisure facilities and gymnasiums and should be supported by Swim England and other bodies including the Local Government Association.
Edwards said: “We say discussions need to take place over the next few days with central government, local government and industry leaders.
“We need to expose the enormity of this situation and put all options on the table. The shadow that hangs over all of this is that we are hosting the Commonwealth Games [in Birmingham] in July and August. We may not be able to celebrate one of the greatest sporting events in the world as community facilities across the country are threatened with closure.
Mark Sesnan, managing director of leisure company GLL, which operates 135 facilities with public swimming pools, told the Financial Times the situation was a “nightmare”, “more difficult than the Covid challenge” and “an existential threat to swimming “.
Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has already met with Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston to raise concerns.
She said swimming pools needed a bailout now, adding: ‘At the moment swimming is not viable unless it is supported.
“Our real concern is that the gates will close simply because operators find they cannot afford to operate their pools.”
Earlier this month, Mr Huddleston answered a parliamentary question about the impact of rising energy costs on public leisure facilities such as swimming pools and gymnasiums. He said the Department for Culture and Sport ‘recognizes the impact that rising energy prices will have on businesses of all sizes’, adding: ‘Ofgem and the government are in regular contact with industry groups. businesses and suppliers to understand the challenges they face and explore ways to protect consumers and businesses.
“Ongoing responsibility for providing access to public leisure facilities rests with local authorities, and the government continues to encourage local authorities to invest in leisure facilities.”