Leisure centres face possible closure without government investment, councils warn

Leisure centres could fall into a state of disrepair and even be forced to close without urgent new investment from government, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The LGA says government will miss a chance to transform the nation’s health if it does not inject new funding into leisure infrastructure in the Autumn Budget.

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

Investment in leisure infrastructure would get more people physically active and help to tackle some of the major health issues facing the country, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

With many sports halls and swimming pools reaching the end of their five year life-cycle, and councils just about managing to keep leisure facilities running, the LGA says government has an opportunity in the Budget to invest new money that ‘breaths new life’ into the country’s leisure facilities and improves the health of communities.

Latest figures show that more than 58 per cent of sports halls and 60 per cent of swimming pools are now more than 20 years old, and nearly a quarter of these have not been refurbished in 20 years.

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 all their existing resources into meting the increasing demand for services such as adult and children’s social care and tackling homelessness, at the expense of investing in leisure facilities.

In its Budget submission to Treasury, the LGA is calling on government to introduce a £400 million funding pot to pay for improvements to infrastructure for health and well-being. It says this would allow councils to upgrade and renovate facilities to the standard needed to support healthy, active communities.

Councils are exploring opportunities for commercial investment to develop new well-being centres, but this is not always suitable for certain areas.

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.

Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chair 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 every day. They get people active and keep them fit and healthy, which in itself is a major long-term cost saving for the country as it prevents the need for treatment further down the line that in turn puts significant extra pressure on social care and NHS services.

“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. Following significant government cuts to councils’ funding and growing demand for services such as caring for the elderly, protecting children and reducing homelessness, many local authorities can no longer foot the bill of maintaining decent, quality leisure facilities.

“Councils are doing all they can to keep leisure centres up and running, but many are in desperate need of refurbishment. Government has a chance in the Autumn Budget to breathe new life into our leisure centres which saves them from falling beyond repair and forcing them to close.”

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