Long term investment in public sport and leisure facilities is key to supporting efforts to tackle health inequalities exposed by the pandemic, councils say today.
Ahead of this week’s Spending Review, the LGA is calling for the Government to invest £875 million in leisure facilities, pitches, and parks to enable councils to reduce obesity; ensure a healthier, more active and productive nation in the future; reduce our carbon footprint; and prepare our communities for the inspiration provided by the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Targeted at those communities most in need of improved services and based on established environmental design plans, the LGA said this strategic investment would help build or refurbish 25 new facilities each year over a three-year period, creating a network of hubs specifically designed to help people become more active in their everyday lives.
As leaders of local public health and one of the largest providers of public facilities, councils are in the prime position to engage with communities to support residents in their efforts to exercise and achieve healthier lifestyles.
Research reveals that 86 per cent of residents say they prefer exercising in a leisure centre, compared to a more informal environment and 77 per cent said they felt the staff at the centre gave them the guidance they needed to be more active, demonstrating the significance of public leisure centres in supporting the activity levels of residents.
Many public sport and leisure facilities serve communities from lower socio-economic backgrounds and BAME communities, stepping in where private operators cannot afford to do so. As a result, data shows that the more deprived an area is, the more people prefer exercising in a public leisure centre. Council-run leisure centres are also vital in supporting grassroots and community sport clubs through the provision of free or low-cost facilities.
However nearly two thirds of the leisure estate is ageing and with some leisure providers still facing financial constraints, many facilities are at risk of closure, with the loss of 2,000 swimming pools predicted by the end of the decade.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:
“The provision of affordable public leisure facilities is essential for levelling up an area and councils want to work with communities to design the leisure centres, sports pitches, parks and other infrastructure that will best enable them to build activity into their lives.
“It cannot be understated the multitude of ways that public sport and leisure facilities contribute to society, from reducing the burden on the NHS and social care, improving our mental and physical health and supporting the ambitions of our sporting superstars. It’s imperative the upcoming Spending Review recognises this with vital long-term investment in these cherished and vital services.”