Councils warning: Leisure centres ‘could be closed’ without government investment

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Leisure centres could fall into a state of disrepair and even be forced to close without urgent investment from the government, councils have warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says the government will miss the chance to transform the nation’s health if it does not inject new funding into leisure infrastructure.

In its budget submission to the Treasury, the LGA is calling on the government to introduce a £400 million funding pot to pay for improvements.

The submission adds that new funding from government is needed now to avoid having to completely replace facilities, which could cost in the region of £1.5 billion further down the line.

It warns that the majority of council-owned swimming pools and sports halls are at risk of becoming ‘old and tired’ as local authorities’ budgets become increasingly squeezed, leaving them unable to afford refurbishments.

Councils are just about managing to keep leisure facilities running, but in many cases facilities are nearing the end of their life-span. The LGA says the government has an opportunity in the Autumn Budget to ‘breathe new life’ into leisure facilities by investing new money.

Investing would help get people more physically active and tackle issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Latest figures show that more than 57 per cent of sports hall and 60 per cent of swimming pools are more than 20 years old.

They also show that almost a quarter of these have not been refurbished in 20 years.

These findings are based on 2015 data collated by Sport England, which surveyed 743 sports halls and 1,640 swimming pools in England. This included only local authority-owned facilities.

This follows years of funding cuts to councils’ budgets, where between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion to their core government funding.

The LGA says the funding gap facing councils will be £5.8 billion by the end of the decade.

Councils are currently having to plough their existing resources into meeting the demand for services such as adult and children’s social care, and tackling homelessness, which is all at the expense of investing in leisure facilities.

Councils are now exploring opportunities for commercial investment to develop new wellbeing centres, but this is not always suitable for certain areas, in particular those in small urban and rural locations with smaller populations.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chairman of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board said: “Leisure facilities are the cornerstone of a physically and mentally healthy community and are used by thousands of families each day.

“But no-one wants to go to a leisure centre that is old, tired and run down.

“Councils need to be given the resources to offer the kind of high-standard, modern facilities that the public rightly expects which in turn helps them keep fit and healthy.

“Councils are doing all they can to keep leisure centres up and running, but many are in desperate need of refurbishment.

“The Government has a change in the Autumn Budget to breathe new life into our leisure centres which saves them from falling beyond repair and forcing them to close.”