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Aberdeen swimming pools face closure threat amid estimated £1m rise in energy costs

Aberdeen City Council cut cut Sport Aberdeen funding by almost £700,000
Sport Aberdeen managing director Alistair Robertson is worried about a potential budget cut. Image: Kami Thomson/DCT Media

An Aberdeen leisure boss is demanding government action as he stares down the barrel of an estimated million-pound rise in energy bills.

Alistair Robertson, the managing director of Sport Aberdeen, says the combined annual cost of running its various facilities could more than double from £800,000 to £1.8m.

And he is warning that, across the city, there is a “real risk” the plug could be pulled on swimming pools to help make ends meet.

It comes only months after the pool at the Beach Leisure Centre was closed.

Others could follow, Mr Robertson insists, unless the UK Government designates leisure a “vulnerable sector” so that it can benefit from energy relief.

The Beach Leisure Centre pool shut in August due to rising energy costs. DCT Archive pic.

‘We have to find a way of paying bills’

Sport Aberdeen runs 20 facilities across the city, including six swimming pools.

Mr Robertson told the P&J they could be first on the chopping block due to their high running costs.

He explained: “It’s a ballpark figure but we face an estimated increase across our network of £1m.

“Just to stand still, the company has to find a way of paying those bills.

“Without support, there is a very real risk that a significant part of the offer in Aberdeen may have to close.

“There would be tough decisions about swimming pools…

But this is what can happen if the government doesn’t give us that designation.”

Mr Robertson at the recently opened Sport Aberdeen centre in Northfield. Image: Kami Thomson/DCT Media

Beach pool closure a warning sign?

Earlier this year, Aberdeen’s Beach Leisure Centre swimming pool was closed in a cost-saving measure.

Weeks later, Mr Robertson told us the combined threat of energy increases and cancelled memberships could be “worse than Covid” for Sport Aberdeen.

Now that stark prospect appears to be coming true, with massive bills coming at a time when leisure providers are struggling to increase attendances.

The pool at Northfield before the facility opened… Could other Aberdeen facilities soon look the same? Image: Kami Thomson/DCT Media

Venues ‘walking a financial tightrope’

As well as worrying for the future of his own organisation, Mr Robertson is battling to save scores of swimming pools, gyms and theatres from being lost for good in his role as the vice-chairman of the Community Leisure UK body.

He says those in charge of such venues have all been left “walking a financial tightrope” as energy costs rocket.

It’s thought 80% of charitable organisations like Sport Aberdeen are “at financial risk”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is being urged to take action to prevent pool closures in Aberdeen and elsewhere. Image: Shutterstock

Under its energy support scheme, the UK Government has promised to pay a significant part of company bills – at least until April.

Jeremy Hunt this week pledged to set out more details of the scheme “shortly”.

In a letter to the chancellor, shared with the Press and Journal, Mr Robertson explains the risky situation so many find themselves in.

He said: “Any mis-step could tip them into financial crisis, to the detriment of the physical and mental wellbeing of those who rely on them as well as on the economies of the areas they serve.

“Collectively, this could leave us with a huge hole in national life.

“Just over 80% of charitable leisure and cultural trusts in England, Scotland and Wales have told us they are at financial risk – with a picture ranging from those who describe themselves as being in crisis now to those who can see their crisis point on the horizon.”

‘Once closed it is hard to imagine them reopening’

He continues: “Even with the current energy price cap, costs are exponentially higher than last year and unsustainable going forward.

“Without government interventions, leisure and culture facilities are going to close.

“Swimming pools, with their high energy usage, are at particular risk.”

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Posted by Sport Aberdeen on Tuesday, 13 December 2022

Community Leisure UK is now pleading for the industry to granted the special designation from April 1.

Mr Robertson warns: “Without this additional support, and in the absence of support on energy costs beyond 31st March, the problems our members face are only going to deepen.”

As experienced at Aberdeen beach, the “only choice” could be for facilities to close.

“Once closed, it is hard to imagine them reopening,” he adds.

Energy support extension to be detailed very shortly, Hunt says