Jeremy Hunt to offer £63m budget lifeline to England’s swimming pools

England’s struggling swimming pools are to be offered a lifeline in the budget with the creation of a £63m fund to ease cost pressures.

On Wednesday, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will outline that the new money will be made available for one year and managed by Sport England.

It will allow local authorities to apply for funding for leisure centres with pools that face immediate cost pressures including operational and maintenance expenses and energy bills.

The move comes shortly after the Guardian revealed England had lost almost 400 swimming pools since 2010, and as figures show that the Covid pandemic and soaring energy costs accelerated a decade of decline in aquatic facilities.

The announcement could be overshadowed by revelations that Rishi Sunak’s new private heated swimming pool uses so much energy that the electricity network had to be upgraded to meet its power demands.

While many Britons are experiencing increased electricity bills – and are trying to limit their energy usage – extra equipment was recently installed in a remote part of North Yorkshire to provide additional capacity from the National Grid to the prime minister’s constituency home.

Sport England said a key aim of the fund would be to help existing facilities to become more energy efficient.

Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England’s chief executive, said: “This is a significant and welcome amount of support from the government that will offer a lifeline to many public leisure centres across England as well as help sustain them into the future.

“Swimming pools play a vital role in our communities and are enormously important in helping people to be physically active in their daily lives.

“We know how difficult the present situation is, and have been working hard to ensure these providers get the support they need. We will now turn our efforts to supporting the process in the weeks ahead to distribute the funding made available today to ensure it goes where it is needed the most.”

In total, £40m of the fund will be made available for investment in decarbonisation and long-term energy efficiency, while £23m is being made available in grants to leisure centres with pools facing immediate cost pressures including operational and maintenance costs, and energy bills.

Council-run pools, as well as those run on behalf of councils by private companies and by charities are all eligible for support.

Across the country, 85 pools have been closed and not replaced since 2019. The number shutting due to financial reasons – either because of insolvency or the facilities being unprofitable – has doubled compared with in the three years before the pandemic.

  • Original Article: The Guardian
  • Date: March 2023