A third of councils charging for fitness classes in parks

Personal trainer takes client through her paces
Image caption Members of the Register of Exercise Professionals are unhappy at the charges to exercise in parks

A BBC investigation has discovered that more than a third of local authorities in the UK charge for fitness classes in their public parks.

A survey by Radio 4's You and Yours found more than 40% charged personal trainers a fee to run exercise sessions in their parks.

In north-east England, 72% of councils charge, while only 14% in Wales charge.

The Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs) says it is disappointed with the findings.

Jean-Ann Marnoch from REPs said many members had complained that park charges were too high:

"One member said they wouldn't be able to justify the £350 cost to clients they train in the park.

"So what then? Do we tell clients to forget a healthy lifestyle and go back to sitting in a chair all day? That's certainly not what we want."

Nine out of 10 councils responded to the survey, a total of 354 local authorities.

Of them, 150 confirmed that personal trainers had to pay a fee to run exercise sessions in their parks.

Value for money

Paul Edgar, a qualified fitness instructor, said it costs him £1,000 to work across four parks in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead.

He does not think they represent value for money.

"The lighting is poor - parts of the park are totally dark in the winter. There's glass sometimes, there's rubbish I have to clear away.

"I'm trying to do a positive thing… but I'm getting penalised for that," he said.

But Tony McKenna, head of leisure services at Newcastle City Council, defended the charges.

He said the council had a duty of care to everyone who used parks.

"We just think we've got to take a sensible approach. We've developed the charge with the personal trainers to make sure it's affordable and equitable. We don't think it's a particularly high charge."

But Ms Marnoch is concerned that these charges will be passed on to clients and make exercise less affordable.

She argues that classes in parks are often a cheaper way to achieve an active lifestyle.

You and Yours is on BBC Radio 4 weekdays at midday, or you can listen again on the iPlayer.

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