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Public swimming pools 'can't rule out' turning temperatures down amid rising costs

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There are no plans to put prices up at public swimming pools – or turn the water temperature down – despite the rising costs involved in heating them.

Greater Manchester’s publicly owned pools and leisure centres are facing a huge increase in energy costs, but intend to continue with ‘business as usual’, although a spokesperson said the organisation’s in charge ‘can’t rule out’ changes in the future.

This includes a £200,000 increase in energy costs to run leisure centres in Manchester with a further 30 pc rise expected in the city from October 2023.

It comes as some public swimming pools around the country are reported to be at threat of closure because it has become too expensive to heat the water.

But in Greater Manchester, although no public pools are known to be in this position, the organisations running them cannot rule out changes in the future.

GM Active, a collective of 12 leisure operators across Greater Manchester whose organisations manage most of the publicly-owned leisure services in the city-region, says the ‘long-term aspiration’ is to keep all public pools open.

A spokesperson said: “While acknowledging the steep increase in energy prices, and their potential impact on publicly owned swimming pools across Greater Manchester, it is the intent of all our members to keep our pools open and operating business as usual.

“That means no reduction in water temperatures, no changes to services and programmes and no increase in prices.

“However, while striving to maintain business as usual, we can’t rule out any future changes and that is why we fully support the coalition of leading bodies in the physical activity sector that has written to the government calling for urgent support to save leisure facilities from going under in the face of rising energy costs of up to 150 pc on last year.”

As part of its ‘We Move as One’ strategy, GM Active has committed to support the region’s ambition to be carbon-neutral by 2038 by improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions from its leisure facilities.

It is also working with our strategic business partners such as Quikswitch, which offers free market comparisons for fixed costs on utilities such as telephony, connectivity and more, to achieve short and long-term solutions.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service also asked all 10 councils in Greater Manchester how rising energy costs are affecting public swimming pools.

Bolton council, which does not directly manage its pools, did not respond.

Bury council confirmed that there are no plans to raise prices, lower pool temperatures or close any publicly-owned leisure centres in the borough.

Manchester council revealed that energy costs across its whole leisure estate – including centres without pools – have increased by approximately £200,000 and the local authority is expecting a further 30 pc rise from October 2023.

The town hall is managing the increase costs through centralised budgets so that the cost is not passed on to users and there are no changes to services.

A Manchester council spokesperson said: “The government did not provide the council with any additional resources to manage pressures associated with rising utility costs in the latest financial settlement, therefore the burden of rising costs rests with the local authority and their providers.”

Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside councils did not provide a comment.

Salford council confirmed there are no changes planned at any public pools.

Councillor Stephen Coen, who is the executive support member for culture, said: “As with all our leisure services and facilities, we’re committed to offering the highest quality provision for our residents and this includes swimming.

“We continue to work closely with our colleagues at Salford Community Leisure, who are reporting swim levels are recovering well post-Covid, with more people getting back in our pools.

“Our school swimming and swimming lessons programmes are both also really strong and all pools are all operated in line with national Swim England standards.

“We understand the value and the many positive outcomes of physical activity, so instead of closures, we are planning improvements, with plans for a new leisure centre and swimming pool at Pendleton.”

Stockport council is working with the organisation which runs its swimming pools to keep the situation under review, but it has no plans to make changes.

A spokesperson said: “As with all organisations and households, we know the current energy market is likely to present financial challenges going forward.

“We are working with Life Leisure to keep the situation under review and do not have any plans at the moment to change our current swimming provision in the Borough.”

Trafford Leisure, which operates leisure centres in the borough, also confirmed there are no plans to decrease the temperature of its pools.

A spokesperson said: “Swimming demand has increased and more and more people and wanting to be active and improve their physical and mental health.

“Therefore, it’s important to maintain the right pool temperatures for swimming pool users.

“We are being impacted by increasing energy costs but our existing utility contracts are providing some protection. Since 2015, we have also reduced energy consumption year on year to help drive down our operational costs and to protect the environment.

“The recent redevelopment of Urmston Move used innovative techniques to reduce energy consumption. This includes being the first mainstream leisure pool in England to use microfiltration, which reduces our energy costs considerably.

“In the long term, our redevelopment plans for Sale, Stretford and Altrincham leisure centres include solar panels and heat pumps. These will not only reduce our energy costs but also provide an environmentally friendly source of energy.”

Wigan council, which recently brought its leisure services back in house, said it is committed to keeping its swimming pools open despite rising energy costs.

Director of leisure and wellbeing James Winterbottom said: “Swimming pools are incredibly important for our communities, helping residents to stay healthy and active and importantly, giving children and adults the opportunity to learn how to swim.

“While the cost of energy continues to rise nationally, we are committed to keeping our pools open and we are working closely with government and other stakeholders to manage the financial impact of this.

“At Wigan council, swimming is a key priority for our long-term investment and this is why we are actively increasing our swimming teacher numbers to allow as many people as possible to access our swimming pools for years to come.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities was contacted for comment in response to the statement made by Manchester council.

The government has provided £1bn to help the leisure centre through the pandemic including the £100m National Leisure Recovery Fund which has saved and reopened more than 1100 swimming pools across the country.

It has also helped businesses by cutting VAT, fuel duty and business rates.

A £750m package of dedicated support was also created for the charity sector during the pandemic, helping 14,000 organisations across the country keep their doors open and continue to provide community support services.

Sport England has provided over £25m to swimming and diving projects, and over £16m directly to Swim England since 2017, according to the government.

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the impact rising global gas prices will have on businesses of all sizes, which is why we are in regular contact with Ofgem, business groups and energy suppliers to understand the challenges they face and see how they can best be supported.

“We are giving councils the resources they need to maintain and improve their services, with an additional £3.7bn being made available for 2022/23. The majority of this funding is un-ringfenced in recognition of local authorities being best placed to understand local priorities, such as local leisure centres and libraries.”

Active Tameside, Bolton Middlebrook Leisure Trust, Bolton Community Leisure, Bury Leisure, MCRactive, Life Leisure, Your Trust, Oldham Community Leisure, Salford Community Leisure, Trafford Leisure, Wigan Council and Wythenshawe Forum Trust are all members of the GM Active group.

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