Almost 150 of Scotland’s public swimming pools ‘could be at risk of closure’ – report

Almost 150 of Scotland’s pools could be at risk of closure based on age alone, according to a new research study into the condition of the country’s swimming pools.

The detailed report by Scottish pool water consultancy OLM Consulting, titled ‘The Future of Swimming Facilities in Scotland’, has been published by Scottish Swimming and sportscotland.

It analysed data on the condition of swimming pools, energy consumption and operational efficiency, gathered through visits to a representative sample of public swimming pools across Scotland.

The report states that 147 of Scotland’s 396 public swimming pools could presently be at risk of closure based on age alone.

While many pools still operate beyond the 60-year lifespan detailed in the ‘Ticking Timebomb’ report of 2001 – a major research study commissioned by sportscotland to estimate the broad maintenance and repair costs of Scotland’s public pools over the years from 1999-2020 – other age modelling estimates pool lifespan to be 38 years.

With the average age of Scotland’s public pools being 36 years old, the report concluded that the pool estate is ageing rapidly and in need of continued investment.

It also estimated that energy efficiencies could result in national savings of more than £5million per year.

With swimming pool facilities often having multiple pools within venues, the report also estimates that five pools a year need to be built at an average of four sites across Scotland to maintain sufficient pool provision – in line with pool construction levels over the previous decade.

The report estimates that the cost of building these pools is £40.5 million-a-year, based on three individual pools and one site per year with two pools.

Euan Lowe, CEO of Scottish Swimming, commented: “The sector is suffering at the moment as a result of the energy crisis and escalating operational costs with many pools forced to reduce opening hours, scale back what they offer to the public or increase prices.

Scotland has 396 public swimming pools

“Without continued investment there will be a lack of available, affordable and accessible water space to the public which could have devastating consequences.”

Forbes Dunlop, Chief Executive of sportscotland, said: “This is an important piece of work to help us understand the current landscape.

“It is vital that all avenues are explored to ensure, where possible, that local clubs and communities have access to sport and leisure facilities, including swimming pools.”

“We recognise the importance of swimming pools, and we will work with local and national partners to look at all possibilities to ensure a sustainable pool stock to meet the needs of clubs and communities.

“In addition, we will continue to work with our partners, including Scottish Swimming, to identify how solutions such as the energy efficiency technologies identified in the facilities reports can be harnessed to provide a sustainable future for the sector.”

The report states that for future sustainability, both new pools and existing pools need to embrace energy efficiency technologies to create energy and cost savings.

These new technologies are detailed in a separate report aimed at pool operators titled ‘A sustainable future: enhancing energy efficiency in Scotland’s swimming pools’.

Robin Mitchell, director of OLM Consulting, said: “This report highlights that the ageing stock of Scotland’s swimming pool facilities is a significant cause of high energy consumption and a lack of energy and carbon efficiency.

“These challenges are exerting additional pressures on local authorities responsible for maintaining these vital facilities.

“Ensuring the continuity of swimming pool services is paramount for the well-being of Scotland’s communities. This necessitates both the establishment of new facilities and, critically, the modernisation of existing ones to enhance energy efficiency, reduce energy costs, and mitigate carbon emissions. In order to achieve this, capital investment is crucial.”

In the wake of both reports, Scottish Swimming and sportscotland confirmed they are working with partners including the Scottish Government to discuss the next steps and how the sector can be supported going forward.

Commenting on the reports, Tess White MSP, Scottish Conservative spokesperson for sport and wellbeing, said: “Swimming pools play a vital role in communities across Scotland, yet they remain under threat by savage SNP-Green cuts to local authority budgets.

“The huge health benefits swimming offers all age groups can’t be underestimated – so allowing pools to close would be the ultimate false economy. Yet, because cash-strapped councils are barely able to fund statutory services, there is a real danger that they will have no option but to resort to shutting pools and leisure centres.

“The UK Government have provided significant sums for swimming pools in England so the onus is on SNP ministers to pass on the consequential funding they have received to upgrade pools here.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government places great importance on swimming pools. They are crucial to the wellbeing of all our country and most importantly, for our children and young people to be healthy and active.

“Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport, recently met with Scottish Swimming to discuss the report and the challenges facing the sector.

“The report provides important information about swimming pools and energy efficiency, which will contribute to an understanding of how to achieve sustainable facilities, in the right places, to serve local communities’ needs.

“However, it is for local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them, including on leisure facilities, on the basis of local needs and priorities.”

  • Original Article: Yahoo! Sport
  • Date: December 2023