Half of Britain's swimming pools could close or face cuts over energy bills

It's feared up to half of the UK's community swimming pools could close or face cuts to services within the next six months without more government support to tackle crippling energy bills. 

Olympian gold medallist Duncan Goodhew and the organisation Community Leisure UK (CLUK) have called for more help for local pools, after news the government's Energy Bill Relief Scheme for vulnerable businesses will exclude the sites from 1 April.

The sector was already struggling, with a recent report finding that nearly 400 pools had closed since 2010, thanks to council funding cuts and the pandemic.

Campaigners fear the energy bills crisis could be the tipping point for many more.

CLUK represents the operators of 880 pools across England, Scotland and Wales, and say half of their clients already fear closure or cuts to staff and services.

CLUK head of policy, Jennifer Huygen, said pools are uniquely vulnerable to soaring costs because of their high energy bills to heat water and the buildings.

"Coming out of COVID, we had a very slow recovery back to a stable financial footing and unfortunately what we're seeing now is utility bills increasing by three-fold for some leisure centres," she said.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has announced a £63m fund for pools, which Ms Huygen welcomed, but she stressed only £23m of that is for emergency support.

She feared it's still nowhere near enough to keep these sites open in the long-term.

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Someone who understands the value and cost of local pools is Jules Laming, chair of trustees at Friends of Jubilee Pool in south Bristol.

After a long campaign lasting years to stop the council from shutting down their pool, the community group finally gained ownership of it last year.

They have already seen their energy bills jump, and know the future is not guaranteed.

"A 25-metre pool can generate £7m worth in social value, it supports the community in so many different ways. When you're just looking at whether or not to close a pool on a spreadsheet you don't take all that into account," Ms Laming said.

In Kent, Dan Manvell from the "Save Uckfield Leisure Centre" campaign was worried his pool could be one of the ones to go.

"Closure would be absolutely massive. There's swimming lessons going on here all the time and making all those families travel elsewhere really isn't sustainable," he said.

Mr Goodhew, who won gold at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, said local swimming facilities are vital for public health and teaching children to swim, and said they need long-term investment.

He was concerned many pools were built during a boom in the 1960s and 1970s, and are now becoming too old and expensive to upgrade.

"I'd urge decision-makers to please look strategically at the next 20 years and really have a vision about what kind of swimming facilities are needed for the country," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News: "We recognise our public pools play a vital role in supporting the health and fitness of the nation and we have stepped in with a further £63m investment to ensure their sustainability and long-term survival.

"This is in addition to the recent £18bn Energy Bill Relief Scheme support provided to organisations such as clubs, pools, leisure centres, schools, charities and businesses during winter, and the £100m National Leisure Recovery Fund which helped to keep pools afloat throughout the pandemic."