Following the closure of Ships and Castles in Falmouth and the imminent closure of Launceston Leisure Centre, a politician in Cornwall has aired fears for the future of the swimming pool at Truro Leisure Centre. However, GLL – which runs the pool – has stressed it is not under threat of closure.
Cornwall councillor Jayne Kirkham said she has been approached by parents who are concerned that changes to opening times due to the cost of living and energy crises could spell its demise as 40% of leisure centres in the UK come under threat.
The situation is so bad that James Curry, head of services in Cornwall for GLL – the social enterprise which runs Cornwall Council-affliated leisure services under the name Better – has written to the Duchy’s MPs lobbying for direct financial support.
Read more: Cornish leisure centre to close for good
However, he has denied that Truro’s pool will close, saying that it is actually thriving with more than 1,000 children learning to swim on the premises each week.
Jayne Kirkham, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth, said she had a meeting with GLL to discuss concerns over the operation and future of Truro’s swimming pool, which is based next to Truro College, after she was approached by worried parents.
She said: “The Government has completely failed to support leisure services that are battling huge increases in running costs. Teaching our children to swim is essential here as we are surrounded by sea and cases of death by drowning are growing. And all activities at leisure centres are so important for mental well being and preventive health care. These are services we need to protect.”
A recent study by UK Active found that 40% of council areas are at risk of losing their leisure centres and swimming pools within five months – or seeing services rationalised – due to the sector’s growing energy crisis.
Ms Kirkham quoted GLL as saying: “GLL like all leisure operators are currently facing severe cost pressures due to the cost of living crisis and energy crisis impacting the UK, the greatest pressure being on the operation of swimming pools. GLL has been working closely with industry bodies and local authority partners, including Cornwall Council, to try and find solutions to support their sector through what is and will be a bigger challenge than Covid.
“GLL have been looking closely at their programmes and where possible looking at options to reduce pool opening times, or make adjustments that reduce their costs, in particular energy costs.”
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In response to her concerns, Mr Curry told CornwallLive: “Truro Leisure Centre is not under threat of closure. On the contrary, more than 1,100 children are currently learning to swim there each week – the highest number ever enrolled.
“GLL is working very hard to mitigate ongoing utility cost pressures by reducing gas and electricity consumption where possible, growing income and modifying pool programmes – especially over the winter period when costs are considerably higher. Swimming lessons and school swimming are not affected by the changes and customer disruption is being kept to a minimum.
“These are challenging times for everyone but we are doing all we can as a not-for-profit social enterprise to ensure our pools and leisure centre facilities remain open and viable.”
Mr Curry has written to the county’s MPs asking for their help in lobbying the Government to “provide direct financial support to local authority leisure centres (and in particular swimming pools) that are operated by charitable trusts whose viability is significantly threatened by the massive increase in energy costs (350%) and staffing costs (15%+).
“Operating costs for the leisure centres in Cornwall have risen by £1.48m in 2022 compared to 2019 and we are reluctant (and often unable) to increase prices to vulnerable communities, schools and clubs. I am sure you realise how important leisure centres are in protecting and promoting physical and mental health and social cohesion within our local communities.”
The letter continues: “There is an increasing chance that facilities are facing the real threat of closure which would cause long term damage to your constituents and these valuable community assets. It would be very helpful if you could lobby ministerial colleagues to provide support to our sector and not least by ensuring we are named as a ‘vulnerable sector’ under the current review.”
Cherilyn Mackrory, Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, replied to Ms Kirkham’s comments, stating: “A Labour councillor saying that the Truro swimming pool ‘may close in the future’ is simply not accurate, and sadly just politically motivated scaremongering.
“I am in regular contact with GLL about issues around the cost of living crisis. On receipt of Labour’s press release today I emailed the head of service for GLL in Cornwall, about the issues described and he assured me that closure is not being considered, rather that they are doing everything possible to mitigate the ongoing pressures from utility costs by reducing gas and electricity consumption where possible, growing our income and modifying our pool programme to make it more efficient especially over the winter period where the costs are considerably more.
“The Government knows many leisure centres and swimming pools are contending with major increases in running costs, which is why we have introduced the Energy Bill Relief Scheme. It will mean they pay wholesale energy costs, well below half of expected prices this winter.
“Of course, the cost of living pressures are a symptom of Putin’s war against Ukraine, with its bite being felt internationally. For example, elsewhere in Europe, France is cutting the temperature of its public swimming pools by 1C, and heating in most public buildings in France, Spain and Germany is being capped at 19C to help tackle the crisis. Italy is also limiting heating in public buildings.”