Over 60s set for free swims

Dominic Bareham OVER 60s look set to enjoy free swims at Great Yarmouth borough swimming pools by April 2009 as part of government plans to improve the nation's health and tackle rising obesity levels.

Dominic Bareham

OVER 60s look set to enjoy free swims at Great Yarmouth borough swimming pools by April 2009 as part of government plans to improve the nation's health and tackle rising obesity levels.

But the cash strapped borough council will not make a decision on providing under-16s with free swims until it knows how much government funding it will receive.

Ministers announced the headline-grabbing plan in June as the country prepares 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.

A government pot of £40m was pledged to implement the free swims for the over 60s and under 16s, which will be divided between all 354 local councils across the country.

Simon Mutten, the borough council's environmental strategy manager, said the council wanted to provide free swims for the under-16s at pools owned by Yarmouth Sport and Leisure Trust (GYSLT), including the Marina Centre and Bradwell's Phoenix Pool.

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But he needed to know how much government grant would be available to decide if there was sufficient funding in the council's budget to cover the costs involved.

If not, then the council could have to look elsewhere for funding, such as to other health organisations with a vested interest in improving people's health.

The GYSLT is set to receive £35,472 of the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) grant for the over-60s which is sufficient when added to funds from the council's budget.

The DCMS has set a deadline of October 15 for council's to tell the government whether they can provide free swims for the under-16s.

But Mr Mutten gave assurances taxpayers would not see an increase in their bills to fund the scheme, which had to have a 'neutral cost' whereby the council's existing resources were sufficient to cover it.

“There is a whole range of options we can look at for funding. I think it is very simplistic to see an increase in council funding because there are a number of options we can look at to cover costs,” he said.

The over-60s free swims have been recommended for approval by the council's corporate management board at a meeting on Tuesday .