Tick, Tick, Splash!

Kaitlin Dryburgh

A Ticking Time Bomb, that’s the name of the report commissioned by SportScotland, the national agency for sport in Scotland, published way back in 2001 the purpose of the report was to investigate and predict what the next twenty years or so will hold for the swimming pools of Scotland.

The name of the report gives the ending away. In 2001 it was observed that Scotland needed to invest a serious amount of money in order to maintain the pools that they already have. As shown from this excerpt;

“The key point from the study is, quite simply, that if Scotland wishes to retain its present level of public pool provision over the next twenty years there will be a need for massive re-investment in existing pools.”

This report predicted that in the next twenty years or so local authorities would be left with some really hard choices. Refurbishment or replacement. Regardless of how well the maintanence of the swimming pool may have been, the lifespan of a swimming pool is around the twenty year mark. This is due to the “hostile” environment of a swimming pool, heating, ventilation wear and tear, condensation, continual use and well water doesn’t normally make a great partner for buildings.

“Over the next twenty or so years it will present a serious threat to every local authority pool in Scotland.”

The report concluded that £540 million would be needed to ensure that at the end of that twenty or so year period all the public authority pools would still be standing. In 1997 Scotland had 338 local swimming pools, however as of this year Scottish councils and leisure trusts operate around 200 pools. There are some logical and organic reasons for the decline in numbers, there were several small pools built pre-second world war, which didn’t meet the needs anymore and several were replaced with a bigger and more centralised swimming pool. While others were built before the 70’s which were found to have much shorter life-spans due to their poorer construction techniques.

So has the bomb gone off or have the warnings been heeded and the appropriate money been used to defuse the situation. Theres no debating that £540 million is a large sum of money, over a twenty year period that equates to an annual spend of £27 million, and this report couldn’t take into account a financial crash, a period of austerity, Brexit, Covid and a large dollop of inflation, to name a few significant economic influences.

Yet I think it’s fair to say the bomb has gone off.

Scotland has been plagued with pool closures since last year. Of course a lot of these have been brought on by the fuel crisis which saw operating costs sky-rocket at points. However, the fuel costs have been the tip of the iceberg in some cases as many pools knew that the cost of upcoming maintenance and refurbishment would unaffordable when coupled with costly energy bills.

So of the £540 million predicted to be required to ensure the future of Scotland’s public pools, how much was delivered? It is hard to say without extensive research, but when the report was first published the Scottish Government was a little spooked so did in fact commit £10 million spread over three years to go towards this issue. Reviewing the SportScotland facility investment summary which begins in 2013 through to 2022 a total of £2.1 million was awarded to aquatic facilities through-out the years. Local authorities have invested, however there is little to suggest that the total sum of £540 million has been invested.

Common Weal among many others warned that many of Scotland’s swimming pools would be closing down this year and this year we have had eleven pools closures or pools in the process of being closed in the foreseeable future. This includes three pools in West Lothian alone which will cease to run come August 31st, the council stated that, In addition to the running costs, each of the three pools also require significant sums of capital (one off) expenditure to ensure they are able to operate in the short term. However, no funding is available to support such expenditure.” Energy and day to day costs have increased but the pressures of expenditure to ensure standards are up to scratch for these buildings have been too much for the council to endure.

The Scottish Government were warned in 2001 of the investment needed to ensure building standards and they were warned last year that the energy crisis also posed a big problem for Scottish swimming pools. So what have they done about it? Not much really.

But hey we might be bidding on the Commonwealth Games.

No money to help the pools and other leisure centres, as it isn’t just swimming pools which are in financial difficulties, yet Glasgow 2026 seems to be on the lips of those in Government. This irrational thinking is simply baffling. If money was to be earmarked for sport then put it towards grassroots, help more parents afford swimming lessons, or community centres fund sports groups, keep facilities open! Every week 106,000 children learn to swim in public pools, swimming is one of Scotland’s most popular leisure activities and it’s estimated that the swimming that us Scottish people do saves the NHS £357 million a year across the UK.

At a time when we have strikes every month, the NHS is on it’s knees, and many people are struggling to keep the roof over their head and put food on the table a Glasgow 2026 Commonwealth Games is the last thing we need. If there is money that can be put towards sports it should be allocated to the survival of grassroots sport.

Swimming pools and leisure centres a like are always in need for constant maintenance and in time refurbishment or replacement, it is evitable that a building will come to the end of it’s lifespan or be in need for some essential TLC. Investment is needed, and Westminster have allocated £40 million to aide pools in England and Wales to become more energy efficient as well as more money to help them see out the energy crisis. Yet this brings up an important point we need to ensure that our leisure buildings are more energy efficient and have long lifespans. If we look to the disaster that was the Dundee Olympia pool, a pool completed in 2013 costing approximately £31.2 million it was forced to close in 2021 after engineers found several dangerous problems, from failing steelwork, faulty lighting and water leaks. This standard simply isn’t good enough and should absolutely not be tolerated, with all of our advancing technology we should be constructing buildings to higher standards so they last longer. This is an issue that is often applied to our housing but it should most definitely be applied to our public buildings as well, they cost a lot so we should be striving to create the most energy efficient versions. My hope is that when a pool like Dundee is built I see it go through maybe two refurbishments in my lifetime but I shouldn’t outlive the building itself.

Creating energy efficient and long-lasting public buildings is achievable. Exeter City Council took the plunge and committed themselves to opening the first UK Passivhaus swimming pool and leisure centre. Excepted to achieve 50%-70% savings on annual energy costs , the design implemented thermal zoning, glazing ratios that utilised thermal modelling to investigate 2080 climate scenarios, and includes ventilation savings by having a higher humidity point. Although a complex design this leisure centre is testament to what can be achieved if the longevity of the building is considered. In total it cost £43 million, and included four pools, 150 station gym, fitness and spin studios, a café, and a creche, the total cost is similar to leisure structures of it’s calibre.

Scottish Swimming is running a campaign titled Save Our Pools, to sign their petition asking for more financial help click HERE.

1 thought on “Tick, Tick, Splash!”

  1. Signed.

    I do think we should avoid pointing to things that are expensive and arguably frivolous while complaining about underfunding. The country is not short of money. It’s a political choice to funnel money to rich people while our public services stagnate. Arguing that we shouldn’t bid on the Commonwealth Games misframes the issue. It’s not a matter of either the Commonwealth Games or local swimming pools. Just tax the rich.

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