Shropshire Council Leisure Facilities

September 30, 2016 8:57 PM
By Hannah Fraser

Shropshire Council have recently consulted on their strategy for leisure facilities in the County. Swimming provision is under threat, with withdrawal of Hannah Fraser - Saving Quarry Swimming Poolfunding from SpaRC in Bishops Caslte and a pool in Church Stretton on the cards. The Strategy is dismissive of our Quarry Pool in Shrewsbury, saying it is not fit for purpose, and promotes the idea of having the swimming pool together with a modern multi-facility. There no doubt they mean Sundorne Sports Village. Hannah Fraser's response to the consultation is below:

The objectives of the strategy, to increase participation for health benefits, and to increase regular participation amongst those who are inactive, are to be welcomed and supported.

Provision of sport and leisure facilities is particularly important in our county, with an ageing demographic and all the pressures that brings to the Council's Adult Social Care budget. It is also vitally important that there is provision for young people who may not have access to a car. In my view, increasing the active participation of our communities in sport and physical activity, is a necessity not a luxury.

As a general comment on the strategy, the document in essence supports the Council's stepping away from supporting community facilities. In my view this is short sighted, and I would be far more supportive of a proactive strategy that has defined programmes for increasing participation of the older members of our communities, funded by savings in adult social care budgets. If the Council is serious about using preventative health and fitness schemes to reduce spending on social care, it should acknowledge that in stepping away from supporting sports facilities it is handing over control of some important tools for this work.

As another general comment, there are clearly challenges in delivering facilities over a rural and sparsely populated geography. The model of concentrating facilities into a small number of high quality hubs is clearly founded on a certain logic. However, participation may be increased more effectively by having a greater number of lower specification facilities dispersed across the area, thereby decreasing travel times and psychological barriers to participation.

I have deep concern over the Strategy's approach to fitness and swimming provision in Shrewsbury.

Table 4.1 shows that the Quarry Swimming Pool is the most popular sports facility in the county, with 305,000 visits in 2015/16 compared with just 223,555 visits to Oswestry Leisure Centre, and 211,000 visits to Shrewsbury Sports Village, the next most popular venues. This is despite the facility being in need of refurbishment.

The Shrewsbury Sports village, in Sundorne, is one of the most expensive in terms of cost per visit, slightly more expensive than the Quarry Pool. The report states that 'this is predominantly an evening/weekend use facility, these costs would be lower if there were more facilities e.g. swimming pools that were used on a daily basis'. This does not explain however, how the other dryside facilities run by the Council have far lower subsidies. The lack of participation during the day time at Shrewsbury Sports Village could well be due to its location on the periphery of the town; the young and old who may wish to participate during the day are likely to be reliant on public transport, by which the facility is not well served.

The report states that 'In Shrewsbury, there is the potential to consider siting the town's sport and leisure offer on one major site; this would increase participation opportunities, reduce operational costs and provide real savings moving forward, but not at the expense of community participation'.

This statement clearly speaks to the Council's desire to move the swimming provision to Sundorne, and is in my view profoundly misguided. Participation at Sundorne is currently limited to evening and weekends due to its location; the residents of Shrewsbury have to make a special journey to get there, and they have to access to a car to be able to do so. The Sports Village has never met its projected turnover. Moving the swimming provision to Sundorne may make the Sports Village less costly to run as schools swimming and swimming lessons will run from there, but in my view the overall community participation at the combined facility will decrease compared with the current provision. It will be particularly difficult for two key target groups, the young and the old, to reach due to a lack of public transport.

The report identifies that there will be an undersupply of 107 fitness stations in the Central area. This is considered to be flawed in light of the several cheap pay as you go gyms that have opened in Shrewsbury. It is understood that participation at Shrewsbury Sports Village has decreased since these gyms have opened resulting in poorer financial performance.

So you have a very popular town centre pool and gym facility in need of refurbishment, and a far less popular 'weekends and evenings only' facility on the edge of town, where participation is compromised by the location of the facility. The Council's answer is to combine the two facilities at the poorer location, resulting in a loss of water space and no doubt reduced participation from the public. The driver for this is the assumption that the overall subsidy to the combined facility will be less, even if participation drops, as the out of town facility will have increased daytime use. However, the gym facility at the Sports Village is vulnerable to commercial competition, and there is no guarantee that the scheme will in fact reduce the Council's subsidy, particularly if swimming participation reduces to the bare minimum of schools bookings and swimming lessons.

The strategy fails to take into account the patterns of travel and the way people access facilities and will in my view reduce overall participation rather than increase it. This is deeply concerning in a county where the promotion of health and fitness is a key aspect of preventative health measures to reduce social care costs.

It is also concerning that this Strategy clearly favours a new swimming facility at a multi-facility site, whilst third parties that may be wishing to put forward a business case for running the Quarry Swimming Pool at its current location are expected to put forward proposals that are compliant with this draft Strategy. This is something of a contradiction that bidders will not be able to comply with. It is hoped that this Strategy will not be used to reject reasonable business cases for running the Quarry Pool at its current location from being given proper and due consideration.