Yorkshire could become 'swimming pool desert' as public facilities struggle to retain funding to survive

Yorkshire is at risk of becoming a “swimming pool desert,” new research has shown - with the region having just half of the public pool space of the South East.

The Spa Baths in Olympic diver Jack Laughter's home city of Ripon have now been put up for sale and a new pool is being built nearby

It comes on the back of significant achievements for the region’s swimmers and divers at the Tokyo Olympics, with Leeds’s Matty Lee taking home the gold medal in the synchronised diving alongside partner Tom Daley.

Jonny Brownlee and Jessica Learmonth also won the gold in the mixed triathlon relay, with Jonny having swum at Aireborough Leisure Centre in Guiseley in his youth. Jessica was a county swimmer whose father was a City of Leeds programme coach.

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But closures across the region as well as lack of investment in new facilities mean that the difference between Yorkshire’s provision and the South East’s is the equivalent of 39 Olympic swimming pools according to research by JPIMedia, owners of The Yorkshire Post.

There are 118 public pools across Yorkshire and the Humber, the equivalent of 867 square metres per 100,000 people in the region. By comparison, the South East has 1048 square metres per 100,000 people, while the South West has 1,068.

And a Leeds MP has warned that improving swimming facilities must be at the heart of the Government’s levelling up agenda.

Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, told the Yorkshire Post: “There’s a long term issue around most swimming pools which are run by councils. It’s not a statutory duty. Government funding has decreased to local authorities. One of the things that disappears is funding swimming pools.

“We have a pool in Otley which is half funded by the council, half by the school. The council have said they can’t fund it anymore. If that shuts, the nearest next pool is Ilkley.

“There is Government funding and lottery funding, and what we do find in many areas outside of elite sport, a disproportionate amount of that goes to the South.

“Part of the Government’s levelling up agenda should be a better settlement around sports and leisure.

“What we need to see is a settlement for the mayoral areas of West Yorkshire and money for swimming to go to the Mayor.

“Bramley Baths in Leeds is an example of success, the community came together and it’s now run as a not for profit venture.”

Mr Sobel also added that needed investment was all the more pertinent given Yorkshire’s strong showing at the Olympics, where eight athletes won bronze, silver or gold medals.

Earlier this month, Olympic gold medallist Duncan Scott warned of the “sad” loss of pools across the UK.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Scottish swimmer said: “Where I grew up, in Clackmannanshire, we have not actually got a pool, they’ve all recently shut.”

The 24-year-old, who this summer became the first British athlete to win four medals at a single Games, said learning to swim was “so important for kids to, firstly, feel safe and confident within the water, but it is also quite an important social skill”.

He added: “I think it is quite sad, so hopefully over the coming months something is done about it.”

The department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “We’re prioritising the nation’s fitness and health as we build back better from the pandemic, and swimming is a fantastic sport for all ages to enjoy.

“The Government has provided an unprecedented £1 billion of public money to ensure the survival of the grassroots, professional sport and leisure sectors.

“This includes the £100m National Leisure Centre Recovery Fund which secured the survival and reopening of more than 1,100 swimming pools all over the country.

“On top of this Sport England, the Government’s funding agency, has provided over £8.5m to swimming and diving projects, and over £16 million to Swim England since 2017. “We are putting the support in and are sure that Team GB’s incredible success at Tokyo 2020 will inspire many people to get swimming.”