Councils express mounting concern at future of leisure centres

By Adam Jones   |   University for the Creative Arts BA (Hons) Journalism and Media Production student   |
Friday 3rd July 2020 6:49 am
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COUNCILS in Waverley and East Hampshire have joined local authorities across the UK in expressing growing concern at the future of the area’s gyms and leisure centres – with both set to stay shut even as pubs begin to reopen this weekend.

In a survey of 92 district council chief executives by the District Councils’ Network, it was revealed leisure services in district council areas have lost more than £45 million in income in 2020 in comparison to the previous year, leaving many businesses and centres in danger of going into liquidation.

The network, which represents 187 councils in England, is calling for emergency funding from the government to help the leisure sector survive the Covid crisis – arguing leisure centres have a major role to play in boosting physical and mental well-being.

Places for People Leisure runs five centres on behalf of Waverley Borough Council in Farnham, Godalming, Cranleigh, and two in Haslemere – and Waverley deputy leader Paul Follows is among those to have expressed concerns.

He has commented online that Waverley is having to deal with many things they find “slightly odd” – as hairdressers and pubs gear up to reopen across the country while the leisure sector remains at a standstill.

A Waverley council spokesman added: “As a council that provides five leisure centres in the local area, we are clearly very concerned about the impact of coronavirus on leisure centre operators and, indeed, on our residents who use these excellent facilities for their health and well-being.

“Since the government closed leisure centres at the end of March, we have been in active dialogue with centres operator Places Leisure. We are aware of the severe financial impact on leisure operators and on council budgets and we are hoping the government will recognise this and provide additional support.”

East Hampshire District Council, whose three sports and leisure centres – the Taro Leisure Centre in Petersfield, Mill Chase Leisure Centre in Bordon and Alton Sports Centre – are run by Everyone Active, is another to have expressed worries.

A spokesman for East Hampshire District Council said: “We are in regular communication with our operator about the situation, although the full impact of coronavirus on the district’s three leisure centres may not be known for some time.

“However, we are already in discussion with them about how we can support each other going forward and provide the residents of East Hampshire with the sports and leisure facilities the district needs.”

A government spokesperson said: “We recognise how important leisure centres are for people’s health and well-being and we are working closely with the sector to support them to reopen as soon as this is safe.

“Across the country we’re providing councils with an unprecedented £3.2 billion to tackle immediate pressures they have told us they are facing, including £96million in Hampshire.

“This funding is part of around £27 billion which the government has provided to support local councils, businesses and communities in fighting the pandemic.”

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced gyms and leisure centres could reopen at the “start of July at the very earliest”, but is yet to announce a firm date for their reopening.

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