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Public Swimming Pools

6. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): If she will make a statement on provision of public swimming pools. [46095]

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): There are more than 4,400 swimming facilities of variable quality across England that are open to the public: 72 per cent. are owned by the local authority or education sectors, and more than half are pay-and-play facilities. Since 2004, 131 pools have opened across the country. More local authority pools have opened than have closed. Since 1997, the Government and lottery distributing bodies between them have invested more than £3 billion in physical activity and sport, and in that time £249 million of lottery investment has gone to swimming, which is the largest amount that has gone to any single sport.

Mr. Wilson: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Is she aware, however, that two swimming pools in my constituency are due to be closed with no certainty of like-for-like replacement? In addition, recent reports in the press indicate that 10 per cent. of swimming pools in schools have already closed. Given the proximity of the 2012 Olympics and the importance of swimming as a life skill, what steps are the Government taking to prevent further pool closures?

Tessa Jowell: On the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I understand that the Arthur Hill pool is scheduled for closure, but the local authority has given a clear commitment that a new facility will be built with the capital receipt, and that the Arthur Hill pool will remain open until the new facility is ready. If that is not the case, I am happy to pursue the matter with the hon. Gentleman. More generally, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) raised in an earlier question, we need more modern facilities. The average age of swimming pools is about 25 years, and
 
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many are simply not of the standard that people are prepared to use regularly. That is why we are asking local authorities to review their stock and make decisions where appropriate about how they might reinvest in modern, new facilities, with coaches. Such opportunities, and the right-to-swim programme, are ways of increasing participation in swimming.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State comment on the position in London, where a number of boroughs are either in the process of closing swimming pools or talking about closing them, and many are not replacing them? Does she accept that we will increasingly face that problem as swimming pools get older, and that perhaps local authorities should take an all-party approach to the issue? All local authorities, whatever their politics, are having to close swimming pools, and they should not have to do so, given that we will host the Olympic games in 2012.

Tessa Jowell: On balance, more pools have opened than closed, but I take my hon. Friend's point about the poor quality of many local authority facilities, which are old and for which we estimate the national maintenance backlog as something like £500 million. We therefore need to take steps. We have commissioned the Audit Commission to provide us with an assessment of the state of local authority facilities. However, we must also work with local authorities. The performance assessment will provide leverage to hold them to account in relation to leisure and sporting facilities, and to make the case for planning for the long term, divesting, selling off or pulling down those facilities that are too old to be serviceable again and, critically, reinvesting the money in the kind of modern facilities that people will want to use.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What progress have the Government made in removing the long-standing discrimination operated by official funding bodies such as Sport England against open-air pools, including those that are heated and operate all the year round, such as the extremely popular Hampton pool in my constituency?

Tessa Jowell: That is a very good question. As someone who swims periodically in the open-air Hampstead ponds, I am happy to take up that important matter for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): Wigan council recently agreed to fund free access to all its pools for those under 16. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an extremely exciting and bold initiative, which will encourage young people to join swimming clubs for health, safety and athletics purposes? Will she join me in congratulating the Labour-led council on that bold initiative?

Tessa Jowell: I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend and his local authority. I hope that others will follow the excellent example that he and his Labour colleagues have set. Right-to-swim schemes are beginning to develop around the country: there is at least one in every region, and wherever they operate they are very successful in encouraging more young people to take up swimming regularly.
 
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Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): My constituency does have a new swimming pool, but—and it is a very big but—a great opportunity was missed. Although the total sum available was enough to fund the building of an eight-lane, competition-size pool, there were so many strings attached to the lottery funding element, involving the provision of additional community facilities, that the result was only a six-lane, 25 m pool with less water space than the old pool which it replaced.

We could have had the only Olympic-size swimming pool in Greater London. Will the Minister think carefully about the strings attached to lottery funding? There are occasions on which local decisions are best. Had all the money been devoted to that pool, we could have had an Olympic-size pool in Harold Hill in Upminster.

Tessa Jowell: Obviously the hon. Lady is right. It is important constantly to ensure that application to the lottery fund is as simple and straightforward as possible. As for her point about the size of the pool, we will shortly have 19 50 m swimming pools, at least one in every region. Consultation with the Amateur Swimming Association, the governing body, and Sport England leads to a decision on whether a 50 m, a 30 m or a 25 m pool should be built. I think that their judgment is much better than mine in this instance.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): We are losing a swimming pool in Plymouth because the landowner wants to redevelop the site. Almost in parallel, the city council is trying to establish a life centre which would meet the Government's emphasis on the health aims of sport and leisure, and which would include a swimming pool. As a former swimming coach and lifeguard, I well understand the value of swimming pools for health and leisure purposes, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that her Department is offering design advice to local authorities to ensure that pools meet not just leisure standards but competitive standards? I agree with the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) that there ought to be an eight-lane pool.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State will be able to answer.

Tessa Jowell: She will do her best, Mr. Speaker.

I take my hon. Friend's point. Advice of that kind is available through Sport England.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): How will the Secretary of State ensure that the Olympics and Paralympics legacy is spread a little more widely, and not confined to the south of England and big cities? May I suggest that a good start would be the building of an Olympic-size swimming pool in one of the coalfield areas, in North-East Derbyshire or perhaps in Bolsover?

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): There is one in Sheffield.
 
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Tessa Jowell: My right hon. Friend points out that there is one in Sheffield, which may not be surprising.

My hon. Friend has made an important point. We want the benefits of the 2012 Olympics in London to be felt across the country, which is why we held the first Olympics business summit last week. It was attended by 250 businesses from all over the United Kingdom. The sporting legacy must also be shared, however, through the development of preparation camps and of facilities funded by Sport England and the lottery. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be an excellent advocate of that cause on behalf of her constituents.

Sport and Leisure Facilities

7. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the contribution of high-quality sport and leisure facilities to improving the health and well-being of the populations they serve. [46096]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): Research has demonstrated the positive impact that sport has on the health of individuals and communities. That is why we have a public service agreement target to increase the number of people who participate in active sport by 3 per cent. in the period to 2008.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he congratulate Labour-run Crawley borough council, which last week opened second-to-none leisure and sports facilities, including a 50 m pool, which has been sited in the area of the town that most needs help and support in making sure that people are active? Not only will we be able, we hope, to play our part in the Olympics, but we have facilities second to none for our community. Will my hon. Friend also come and have a swim in our lovely new pool?

Mr. Lammy: I definitely congratulate Labour-run Crawley council and the constituency's hard-working Labour MP who has fought hard to ensure that the best sports facilities are there for her constituents. I am not a great swimmer, but I will endeavour to get to Crawley to make an attempt.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Minister will know that Chasetown football club recently did very well in the FA cup round. [hon. Mems: "Which round?"] Well, you know, that's a detail.

Does the Minister agree that the money can be used to help promote sport in the club's area. Will he join me and the club in supporting its lottery bid to try to get a training area for the team and for the people of Chasetown?

Mr. Lammy: We cannot interfere with individual lottery decisions, but I congratulate all the small clubs who have made it through FA cup rounds, particularly Leicester, who beat Spurs.

Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that not only sports facilities but public libraries can make a significant contribution to the well-being of local communities? Will he join me in
 
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urging the Conservative-controlled Cheshire county council to have a rethink on its proposal to close three branch libraries, all well used by all age groups, in my constituency?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Libraries play a very important role in the well-being of communities up and down the country. Reading is a key part of our communities' arts and cultural heritage. That is why I have written to every local authority, including Cheshire, to remind them of their obligation, under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, to provide a comprehensive and efficient library system.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): As a recent survivor of the 50th Anglo-Swiss parliamentary ski race, in which Members from both sides of the House took part—some were injured, but perhaps we shall come to that later—may I associate myself with the Secretary of State's remarks as our team speeds towards Turin for what I am sure will be victory after victory?

We can all agree on the importance of sport and leisure facilities in improving the health of the nation. That means, however, that facilities themselves need to be financially healthy. Given the importance of amateur sports clubs in improving the health of the nation, why do 56 per cent. of clubs fall within the highest three bands—C, D and E—for club licensing fees, and what possible incentive is there for any club to improve its facilities if it will then be assessed at an even higher rate?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman should know that there is mandatory rate relief for those uplifts. I shall be happy to write to him with more detail if he has not considered the matter carefully.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I am not particularly interested in or worried about people who use high-quality sport and leisure facilities. What concerns me is the people who go nowhere near leisure or sports facilities, particularly youngsters who walk the streets. What plans has the Minister to engage those young people in organised sporting activities, or in any organised activity whatsoever, in order to look after their well-being?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend makes a central point. First, our target is that, by 2008, most people will live within 20 minutes of a good multi-sports facility. Secondly, we need to ensure, again by means of our target, that we are dealing with obesity, including ensuring that there is no increase in obesity in children under 11. Thirdly, Sport England must be restructured to ensure that all its staff are dedicated to increasing participation across all our communities, which must be key, especially for our young people.


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