Swimming ‘deserts’ revealed after Team GB Olympics star Duncan Scott slams pool closures

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Wakefield has nine times less public swimming space than the best equipped area in the country.

And some parts of England have 10 times less public swimming space than others, exclusive analysis shows.

The pool ‘deserts’ have been laid bare after Tokyo Olympics star Duncan Scott warned of the “quite sad” closure of pools across the UK.

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The best equipped local authority area is Rushmoor in Hampshire, which has 5,450 sq metres of pool per 100,000 population.


Comparatively, Wakefield has 626 sq metres, which puts it below the national average.

The district has six swimming pool sites with a total of eight pools covering a total of 2,202 sq metres.

Yorkshire has half the public pool space of the South East. The difference is equivalent to 39 Olympic-size swimming pools.

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Great Britain Diving Federation president Jim McNally said the Government’s policy of providing sport for all was “in tatters”.

He said: “This is a situation which is getting worse and worse and the grassroots sport is being allowed to wither on the vine.”

Swim England said it predicted the nation would lose 40 per cent of its existing pools by the end of the decade, “potentially shutting millions out of the activities they love”.

The Government said its £100 million National Leisure Centre Recovery Fund had “secured the survival and reopening of more than 1,100 swimming pools all over the country”.

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JPIMedia’s analysis looked at all pools which are open to the public for free or on a pay-and-swim basis, excluding commercially-owned sites or those only available to members.

There are 1,997 public pools across 1,187 sites in England, totalling 503,233 square metres of pool space.

But when measured against the size of the population, some areas' facilities are spread more thinly than others.

The analysis found:

There are three regions without an Olympic-size pool: the North West, East of England and East Midlands, although each have 50m pools which don’t meet Olympic width standards;

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Rushmoor in Hampshire enjoys the most swimming pool space, at 5,450 square metres per 100,000 people, but 50 council areas have just a tenth of this provision;

One council area, Broadland in Norfolk, has no dedicated public pool;

The most urban areas are the worst served in terms of public pool space per head.

Mr McNally warned that access to diving pools had become a “postcode lottery”, thanks to the loss of ageing facilities and a recent funding focus by sports bodies on a handful of ‘centres of excellence’ for elite athletes.

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“To that end, the Government policy of providing sport for all is in tatters,” he said.

“I think there are 11 centres of excellence scattered across the country but they are not scattered demographically properly.

“For example, Birmingham is only now getting a major swimming pool and diving pool when up to now it has not had one, and the only reason it is getting one is for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“It is the second largest city in the UK and it had no diving provision for many, many years.”

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In London, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition to save the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre’s 50m and diving pools, which were forced to shut last year because of structural problems.

Mr McNally said if the site was closed for good, this would leave the capital with only one 10m diving facility, which he branded “an appalling state of affairs”.

Mr McNally, a Masters diving world champion, said he himself had to travel nearly an hour from his home in North Hertfordshire to Hemel Hempstead to train.

He said while committed divers were travelling “lengthy distances” to get pool time, others were dropping out of the sport entirely.

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Mr McNally said he hoped a recent funding policy change by sport governing bodies would benefit the grassroots sport. But he said this was “going to take time to filter through”.

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”.

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

A spokesperson from Swim England said: “For everyone to be able to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of swimming, it is absolutely vital that there are appropriate facilities in the right locations.

“Swim England’s 2019 Value of Swimming report forecast that the number of pools in England is set to decline by 40 per cent by the end of the decade, potentially shutting millions out of the activities they love.

“The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and it’s clear that local authorities need both short and long-term funding for facilities.

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“Next month, we will be publishing a Value of Facilities report containing new insight which will give a clearer picture of the issue and the steps that need to be taken.”

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

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“On top of this Sport England, the Government's funding agency, has provided over £8.5 million 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.”

A spokesman for Broadland District Council said although the authority did not have its own swimming pools, residents could use other pools including private pools that were available for bookings.

Julie Russell, Wakefield Council’s Service Director for Arts, Culture and Leisure said: “Pool space across our district meets the requirements of Sports England’s water space planning model, which takes into account all swimming facilities in the district – not just those provided by local authorities - and is now higher quality, more accessible and more sustainable than previous provision.

“All of our residents can access pool space within 20 minutes – ensuring we have strong provision to meet current and future demand for swimming.”