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SWIMMING


S&P Architects’ Keith Ashton and Mark Thomas look at the potential effect of the government’s spending cuts on swimming pool and leisure provision


The future of SWIMMING POOLS P


ublic swimming pools in the UK have been provided by local authorities and funded through the taxation system for more


than a century. During this time, their purpose has changed from bath houses, built to tackle public health issues, to outdoor lidos offering water-based ac- tivities and fresh air – the use of which coincided with the Annual Holiday Bill of 1936, which made an annual paid holiday a statutory right for Britain’s working population. Today, the design brief for a typical


public swimming pool ensures a suitable place for teaching, recreational swim- ming and county-level competition. It should offer an ideal environment for children and adults to learn to swim, encourage regular participation, help identify and nurture the swimming stars of the future and be inclusive and accessible to all. In fact, most swimming pools in this country are built as part of a larger leisure centre that repre- sents a multi-million-pound ‘wellness’


investment by the local authority on behalf of the local community. However, the Comprehensive Spend-


ing Review (CSR), announced by the coalition government at the end of 2010, is expected to see dramatic reductions in the budgets of local government and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport where sport centre funding originates. This being the case, what will be the impact on swimming pools, and indeed leisure provision, going forward?


Leisure consolidation Local authorities are clearly expecting to bear the brunt of the CSR with leisure and cultural services on the front line. Some authorities have stated that their post-review budget conclusions amount to a worst-case scenario and that they do not expect to retain the current numbers of leisure centres, swimming pools and playing fields during the next four years. It will be tough to successfully argue


for maintained or increased investment in local authority-funded leisure services


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in the face of the required statutory services that target basic public health, education and welfare services. Although the closure of leisure facilities is seen as a possible vote-loser, because of the high- profile headlines and negative media response that they generate, these fa- cilities will undoubtedly be near the top of the list of cuts because of the subsidy cost required to run them. For those authorities that are in the


fortunate position of being able to main- tain leisure development, they are likely to consolidate delivery of a range of ser- vices, including swimming pools, gyms and sports centres, in a single building to reduce the operational costs and even out the differing levels of demand across the facility throughout the day. In order to encourage continual activity, commu- nity links are also becoming increasingly important to operators as large areas such as sports halls can provide flexible space in which to host club and group meetings, birthday parties, weddings and conferences. In addition, communal


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