“Local leisure facilities play a vital role in ensuring our communities remain healthy but too many are now in desperate need of being updated and refurbished."
Nearly two thirds of leisure centres are outdated and need urgent new investment from government, the Local Government Association reveals today.
New figures, shared with the LGA by Sport England, show that up to 63 per cent of sports halls and swimming pools are more than 10 years old. Nearly a quarter of all sports halls and swimming pools have not been refurbished in more than 20 years.
Central government funding for leisure infrastructure reduced by a third over the last decade. The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is calling on government to use the forthcoming Budget to introduce a £500 million funding pot for councils to redesign, upgrade and renovate facilities to the standard needed to support healthy, active communities and transform the nation’s health.
With the upcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the LGA says this can help councils work with the Government to prepare a legacy by getting more communities active and using leisure facilities and provide a boost to national efforts to tackle child obesity, loneliness and mental health challenges.
Council-run leisure facilities – swimming pools, gyms, football pitches and sports halls – are vital to local communities as they contribute to physical and mental wellbeing. The NHS spends hundreds of millions a year treating preventative diseases which could have been avoided by access to active facilities.
Redesigning and upgrading centres would also help to meet the latest energy efficiency and environmental standards and contribute to net zero carbon targets, with swimming pools in particular requiring large amounts of energy to heat.
Funding and demand pressures have led councils to focus on statutory services such as adult social care and children’s services. This has left them increasingly struggling to invest in their leisure facilities, which they are not legally required to provide, but which play a vital role in supporting local communities and high streets.
The LGA says that the right investment can maximise the impact in addressing societal challenges, reducing and improving health conditions, anti-social behaviour, social isolation and workplace wellbeing.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said:
“Local leisure facilities play a vital role in ensuring our communities remain healthy but too many are now in desperate need of being updated and refurbished.
“Council-run leisure facilities provide thousands of people and families with access to affordable gyms, swimming pools and exercise opportunities they would otherwise not have.
“Underinvestment has meant that many councils have not been able to provide the necessary refurbishments to some outdated sports facilities.
“Where refurbishments have been possible, they have been shown to save an average of £500,000 a year, so investment pays for itself, as well as improving the health and wellbeing of residents and helping meet our climate targets.
“With desperately-needed investment, councils can improve our leisure facilities and help use the upcoming Commonwealth Games to inspire our communities to become healthier and more active.”
Despite funding pressures, many councils continue to try and invest in leisure facilities. For example:
Isle of Wight leisure centres and County Hall form part of a network of ‘safe places’ where adults with learning disabilities can find support if they feel vulnerable or unsafe while they are out and about in the community. Since 2015, the Isle of Wight has invested £8 million in its three leisure centres, improving community benefits and increased use. It has invested in latest equipment, building and layout improvements, with an emphasis on improving public health and participation in the community.
Wirral Council’s sport and leisure provision has helped to improve workforce skills, tackle anti-social behaviour and provide access for people with disabilities. The council offer is wide-reaching and involves many other organisations, including more than 400 sports clubs that use council facilities, schools and colleges, community groups and local businesses.
However, many councils are at the point where they have to make costly repairs to keep the leisure centre open. For example:
Liverpool City Council’s Austin Rawlinson Lifestyles Centre temporarily closed for three months whilst it underwent £250,000 of urgent works. It followed surveys which identified issues with electric distribution boards and main board, emergency lighting, ventilation systems, pool pumps, boiler systems and water heaters.
Kingston Council recently had to close the Kingfisher Leisure Centre due to urgent repairs needed to the building. The council directed residents towards other leisure centres open and available in the borough.
Latest figures from Sports England show that 63 per cent of sports halls and 60 per cent of swimming pools are more than 10 years old -https://www.activeplacespower.com/
NHS providers spent more £950 million on preventative treatments that could have been avoided by activity - https://www.sportengland.org/research/benefits-of-sport/health-and-benefits-of-sport/engaging-inactive-people/
The LGA published a joint publication in 2017: ‘Active people, health places: Councils and their partners leading sport and physical activity in their place’ with Sporta and the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association.
As part of the LGA’s wider sector-led improvement offer, it provides opportunities for councils to participate in an Arts Council England funded peer challenge of their cultural or library services. A peer challenge of their cultural or library service helps councils to consider a new delivery model, explore new partnerships, or to strengthen strategic links between those services and other councils services.