In the week in which it has been announced that Harlech swimming pool will close this month, swimming pool leaders have issued a plea to the Welsh Government.Community leisure leaders are calling on the Welsh Government to ensure that the nation’s under-pressure swimming pools get their share of a £63m pledge by the Chancellor to help with crippling energy costs.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will announce a one-year fund made up of £40m to make pools more energy efficient in the long long term and £23m in grants to leisure centres with pools facing immediate cost pressures - including energy bills - as part of his Budget today (Weds).
While this will not automatically make funds available to Scotland’s pool operators, it will release money to the Senedd through Barnett Formula consequentials for Welsh ministers to distribute.
Community Leisure UK, which represents charitable trusts operating swimming pools, has warned that money is desperately needed to cope with the immediate impact of rapidly rising energy costs, triggering growing closure fears among its members.
It has described the package promised by the chancellor as a lifeline rather than a lifesaver in preventing widespread shutdowns and service cuts across the UK and says its members in Wales must be able to access any help available.
CLUK chair, Phil Rumbelow, said: “The impact of rising energy costs on swimming pools across Wales is intensifying - and that pressure is only going to become greater.
“Operators of community swimming pools will face stark choices, including closures and service reductions, unless we can channel every ounce of financial help available to them.
“While we are still seeking greater action from the UK Government in terms of relief on energy bills, it’s vital that the Welsh Government ensures the knock-on impact of the Chancellor’s announcement are made available to our sector.”
CLUK has been leading calls for the Government to provide continued financial support to help pay crippling energy bills.
It warned last month that up to half of the UK’s community swimming pools face closures or service cuts - placing thousands of jobs at risk - unless Ministers u-turned on a decision to discontinue payment relief on bills from April 1.
Swimming pools are particularly hard hit by rising energy bills because of the costs to heat water and the ambient environment.
Some operators have told CLUK that their energy costs have as much as tripled in recent times.
Heating an average 25-metre six-lane swimming pool uses about one million kwh of power per year. That compares to the average 2,900 kwh of electricity and 12,000 kwh of gas that energy regulator Ofgem says is used by the average British household annually.
The leisure sector has previously been granted “vulnerable” status by the UK Government and received help with payments as part of its Energy Bill Relief Scheme. But it is currently not on the list of sectors to feature from April 1.
CLUK say pool closures would not only block a reroute to better public health, but cause an irreparable blow to elite sporting development, losing medal-winners of the future.
Jeremy Hunt has said soaring bills are hitting everyone hard, and this vital lifeline will keep them afloat.
Harlech and Ardudwy Leisure (HAL) has seen energy costs triple and this, combined with fewer people using the pool, has forced the board of the community-run pool to announce its imminent closure.
The board said rising energy costs means the centre has reached “crisis point”.
Energy costs have risen from around £4,000 per month up to £12,000 per month.
The board said: “Moving forward, energy costs may reduce in the long term with potential grant funded investment in renewable energy generation and more efficient plant and machinery can provide potential solutions, however the current energy costs are unsustainable as they stand.
“The number of people using the swimming pool over the last couple of months has reduced as the cost of living is affecting everyone, this is a trend that we are witnessing across the sector.”
The board of directors held an emergency meeting last Tuesday, 7 March, to discuss the future of HAL, the costs associated with running the pool and the implications to the wider centre but “came to the difficult but necessary decision due to lack of finances that the swimming pool will be closed before the end of March and the café and climbing wall to remain open in the short-term”.
“Harlech Triathlon is due to run on 26 March and the board recognises how important the event is to the local economy and the event organisers and has worked hard with the staff to keep the pool open, but we need to raise a minimum of £5,000 either by sponsorship or donations over the next few weeks.
“We are confident this can be achieved and the event will go ahead as planned, and we would like to keep the swimming pool open until the end of the Easter holidays. We have spoken to Gwynedd Council this week, with help from Cllr Gwynfor Owen.
“They have agreed to help up with an outstanding debt to them which has given us hope of remaining open until the end of March, but funds still need to be raised to guarantee this.
“It is more important than ever that the centre is used by the local community over the coming weeks to generate as much income as possible to try and extend the closing date of the swimming pool.
“If we can remain open until the end of March, then we will be able to finish off the school term swimming lessons along with private swimming lessons.
“If this funding is not raised, the board cannot risk placing HAL in a negative financial situation.”
Anyone looking to sponsor HAL should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five out of eight board members have resigned and there is “an insufficient number of directors to run the centre unless a new board can be established”.
The board praised centre lead, Donna, and all the staff and volunteers.
Two community events will be held for new board members to be recruited and a solution for the current problems to be found.
Anyone interested in joining the board can also send an email. The meetings will take place in Talsarnau Community Hall on 20 March at 6.30pm, and in the Memorial Hall in Harlech on 21 March at 6.30pm.
A crowd funding page has been set up to raise money for HAL. Visit gofund.me/74e94a41.