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West Midlands faces lack of pools

The world’s eyes are on Birmingham and the West Midlands for the hugely successful Commonwealth Games – but the region is facing a worrying shortage of swimming pools, according to a new report.

Beyond Birmingham 2022: The Future of Aquatics in the West Midlands states that 14 of the 15 most disadvantaged local authorities in the region are currently facing water shortages – and the situation is only expected to get worse.

The region currently has a deficit of 15 pools – and this is projected to rise to 93 by 2040.

Swim England is now urging Government and local authorities to do everything they can to prevent millions of young people missing out on a chance to learn a vital skill.

The Beyond Birmingham 2022 report warns that the sharpest decline in facilities will be those supporting community activities – with 40 per cent of pools suitable for learning to swim at risk of being closed or at risk of being closed over the next 18 years.

Jane Nickerson, chief executive of Swim England, warned that home games “could not have a lasting impact” unless investment was made available for the pools needed for people to take part.

She said: “The excitement surrounding the Commonwealth Games in the West Midlands has been fantastic.

“Seeing Team England athletes at the top of their game and winning medals is a proud moment that will inspire future generations to emulate their heroes.

“However, the greatest benefit of swimming to society does not lie in the comparatively small number of elite athletes, as brilliant and celebrated as they rightly are.

“The immense value of swimming lies in the transformative power it can have on the health and well-being of people of all ages in communities across the country, helping them lead healthier and happier lives.

“It’s because of the huge savings it can bring to our valued NHS and social care system.

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Lasting effect

“It’s in the way it can equip any child with an ability that could one day save their life.

“The wonderful watersports center at Sandwell and the work of councilors such as Dudley and Walsall demonstrate the benefits of investing in swimming pools – both in terms of environmental improvements and economically as new facilities attract more customers.

“We need to ensure that investment in a new generation of pools is realized across the rest of the West Midlands and beyond.

“Once the excitement of seeing Team England athletes atop the podium fades, without the pools we need to use these home games cannot have a lasting impact – both in the West Midlands and the rest of the country .”

The value of the facilities is shown, but the fact that weekly swimming participation in England saves the NHS and social care system more than £357million every year – the figure for the West Midlands alone is £35million.

Every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity also yields a return on investment of £3.91 for the individual and society.

The Beyond Birmingham 2022 report calls on the Government to provide the necessary support for pools – both in the short term to help facilities deal with rising energy prices and in the longer term by ensuring capital investment is available to build new pools or refurbish them existing pools can be made everyone can continue to have access to the water.

Local authorities are also encouraged to carry out a strategic needs assessment of the pool space they require now and in the future.

Councils should also include recreational facilities in applications for available programs such as the Public Sector Decarbonization Program and the Leveling Up Fund.

Beyond Birmingham follows on from Swim England’s Decade of Decline report released last year, which warned that 2,000 swimming pools could be lost forever by 2030 if government and local authorities don’t take action to clean aging facilities to replace or refurbish.

To read the full report, Beyond Birmingham 2022: The Future of Aquatics in the West Midlands, please click here.

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