Local councils cutting sports facilities - BBC survey

Woman running on treadmill in gym Council-run facilities included in the survey included leisure centres and gyms

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More than a third of UK councils have cut or closed some public sports facilities in the past three years, a BBC investigation has found.

A fifth of the councils that responded to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours survey had closed at least one service.

But 33 councils had added new facilities or increased hours.

In Scotland where sports provision is a legal requirement 15 out of 26 councils (58%) had reduced services compared to 99 out of 276 (36%) English councils.

The figures for Wales were 8 out of 20 councils (40%) and for Northern Ireland 4 out of 24 councils (17%).

Almost a quarter of councils across the UK had cut opening hours.

The survey follows calls to make the most of the success of Team GB at the Olympics and ensure a sporting legacy from the Games.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said there needs to be "a big cultural change" in favour of competitive sports in schools, while the British Olympic Association (BOA) has called for a "step change" in government policy towards sports.

Lord Moynihan, the outgoing chairman of the BOA, said he wanted new laws to force councils to ringfence money for leisure provision.

Multi-million venues

Of the 369 UK councils who responded to the poll of 434 surveyed, 346 operated sports facilities such as swimming pools, leisure centres and athletics tracks.

Seventy local authorities had closed at least one sporting facility, and 126 had reduced what they could provide.

But 33 councils had increased the number of sporting facilities available or lengthened their opening hours.

In Glasgow, services have been increased and improved with several multi-million pound venues being developed ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The survey included anywhere people went to play sport or exercise - ranging from swimming pools and gyms to bowling greens and skate parks.

Sport is a discretionary requirement of local authorities in England.

However the law is different in Scotland where councils have to make adequate provision for sport.

'Protect and secure'

Lord Moynihan told the BBC he will call for legislation to force councils to set aside funding for leisure provision.

He said: "When we see facilities being cut back then those who have been inspired by the Games don't get the opportunity to really engage in sport.

"We should be looking at changing the law to make provision of sport and recreation opportunity a statutory requirement.

"At the moment in England it's discretionary and once it's discretionary it's inevitable that councillors will be looking for discretionary cutbacks first."

Sport England said more than 15 million people were taking part in sport each week - an increase of half-a-million over the past six months.

According to its own survey - which includes non-council facilities there was more provision of sporting overall.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    It's simply a matter of priorities. If a council has a limited amount of money, I'm afraid the provision of facilities for recreation and sports comes a long way below looking after old ladies and street cleaning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    As others have said council sports facilities have been expensive to use for decades. They are also mostly only available to people who have joined cliquey clubs. Public swimming at most council baths is for about 1 hour at 6am and 1 hour when most people are at work. Added to that there are more important things for councils to provide such as social care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    It's the quality of sports venues that counts, not the quantity.

    Take the excellent new Ravenscraig facility in Motherwell. It has to be one of the best sports facilities in Europe. I was there last week and there were literally hundreds of kids taking part in sporting activities and dancing. The full size indoor football training pitch is incredible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    If not closing, then removing existing coaching staff / funding and then telling interested groups that they can set-up self help groups / clubs and tell them that there are loads of grants to apply for! Problem is this road is not paved with GOLD! What was that about an Olympic legacy? It gets more distant the further away from London!

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    What is more important is not how many council facilities there are, but the quality of the facilities on offer. If a council facility is old, poor quality, and expensive to maintain, and the council does not have the funds to improve it, but has other facilities on offer in the area, then surely it makes sense to close the least economical facilities?


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