Free swims thrown out
Dominic Bareham SWIMMERS will still have to pay to use Great Yarmouth borough pools after councillors rejected a high profile government scheme to introduce free swims for the over-60s and under-16s.
SWIMMERS will still have to pay to use Great Yarmouth borough pools after councillors rejected a high profile government scheme to introduce free swims for the over-60s and under-16s.
Officials had been confident the corporate management board would at least agree to exempt over-60s from April next year, but instead the entire scheme was sunk at a meeting on Tuesday.
The decision means Yarmouth is the only Norfolk council to officially reject the plans in their entirety.
It is understood that fears were raised at the meeting about the long-term burden on budgets, with the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) only providing grant funding for two years.
And questions were also asked about whether there was enough money in the council's existing budget to support the proposals and what the effect would be on other sports supported by the council.
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A further concern was the short deadline to respond, as officers were only told about the proposals at the end of July and had to respond by next Monday.
Simon Mutten, the borough council's environmental strategy manager, said councillors feared they would have to go back to charging once the funding had expired.
He added that a number of other councils in Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes had already rejected the plans.
“It is certainly not the case that the council does not care about providing swimming for these groups. It is just the sustainability of it that is the biggest question,” Mr Mutten said.
He did not rule out the possibility of introducing free swims in the future, if the government decided to review the plans based on the national responses.
Ministers announced the headline-grabbing plan in June as the country prepared to welcome the Olympics to London in 2012 and the long term aim is to make public swimming pools free for everyone as a legacy of the Games. The government hopes the initiative will improve the nation's health and reduce obesity levels.
A shared pot of £40m for all 354 local councils across the country was pledged to implement the swims.
The Great Yarmouth Sport and Leisure Trust was due to receive £35,472 for the over-60s. A decision was due at a later date on whether there was enough money to extend free swims to the under-16s.
Both North Norfolk and South Norfolk District Councils have agreed to implement the over-60s and expressed an interest in the under-16s, while King's Lynn and West Norfolk will implement both elements.
Only officers from Breckland and Norwich City Councils had expressed reservations although no official decision had been made.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Is the council right to be careful with our money or is it pinching pennies from the wrong place, at the expense of healthy lifestyles. Write to The Mercury, see page 10 for address, or email firstname.lastname@example.org