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8 swimming pools could be at risk of closure

Eight swimming pools across Powys could be under threat of closure, a councillor has claimed after hearing a briefing of town and community councils.

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By Elgan Hearn
Local Democracy Reporter

Eight swimming pools across Powys could be under threat of closure, a councillor has claimed after hearing a briefing of town and community councils.

Comments made at meetings by Powys County Council chiefs have indicated the severity of the cuts facing leisure services in the county.

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Over recent months several meetings have been held with town and community councils in which senior county council staff, including chief executive Emma Palmer, have tried to explain what the “Sustainable Powys” idea actually means.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Raiff Devlin was at a recent meeting in Crickhowell where Ms Palmer spoke to the town and community councils in that area of Powys.

Cllr Devlin explained that attendees were told that it was “unreasonable” for all council tax payers across Powys to fund leisure centres, when only a small proportion of people use them.

Cllr Devlin, who was elected last November to represent Talybont-on-Usk, said: “There followed a discussion on the implementation of Sustainable Powys in which the number of leisure centres in the county is being reviewed and proposals will see our current provision of twelve swimming pools reduced to just four.”

Cllr Devlin disputed this gloomy prognosis and said that in March, Freedom Leisure, which runs the service on behalf of the council, reported that leisure centres across Powys were used nearly 1.9 million times in the previous twelve months, up over 62,000 on the previous year.

There are also 5,750 gym memberships, and over 5,000 children learning to swim.

Take-up for the National Exercise Referral Scheme is currently 161 per cent higher than the set targets.

Cllr Devlin said: “In other words, Powys’ leisure centres are actually used by a significant proportion of the county’s population.”

He adds that this “does not include” the thousands of visitors and tourists that use leisure facilities especially during bad weather.

In Powys, leisure centres cost around £3 million per year to run. Powys County Council’s overall budget for 2024 is £340 million, this means that less than one per cent of council spending goes on leisure services.

Cllr Devlin said: “In return, we have access to 13 leisure centres with 12 swimming pools, gyms, fitness classes, cafes, and outdoor facilities for all to enjoy.

“Leisure centres contribute enormously to the prosperity of our communities: helping to retain our young people within rural areas and keeping our elderly active and healthy which reduces demand on our struggling health service.”

He believes that a rethink is needed following the results of last week’s general election.

“Rather than managed decline, our policy in Powys must be one of active renewal,” said Cllr Devlin.

A spokesman for Powys County Council said:  “Although we are in initial stages of planning, we are making progress in developing ideas about how we will deliver services in the future.

“Our work is looking at the council’s assets, the way we manage important services such as education, social care, leisure and transport.

“No decisions have been made, we are determined to work with our communities and the people of Powys in shaping future service delivery.”

They explain that the council is predicting a funding shortfall based on “national fiscal analysis” of more than £18 million next year rising to £64 million over the next three years.

The council spokesman said: “Put simply, this means we can’t afford to continue delivering our services in the same way.

“Sustainable Powys is about working together to design a future, and also building resilience so community-led solutions can help meet local need. It is about being here for those who need support most.”

A report noted by Cabinet earlier this week shows that  Powys council has over £73 million squirrelled away in various reserve budgets.

Not for profit company, Freedom Leisure runs 13 leisure, sports centres, and swimming pools across Powys and were awarded a 15 year council contract in 2015 to run the facilities.

The review into leisure facilities was prompted by the cost of living crisis and rising energy costs which saw the utility bills for running the centres jump up massively towards the end of 2022.

This saw a proposal to mothball three leisure centres from January to March 2023 – but following protests from opposition councillors the decision was cancelled as an extra £287,000 was found and give to Freedom Leisure them cope the with energy costs.

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