The CEO of Scottish Swimming has penned an open letter to West Lothian Council following news of plans to close three of the area’s leisure centres.
Euan Lowe said swimming pools are “happy, safe spaces which are the beating heart of local communities” as he urged the local authority to reconsider the plans.
Councillors granted permission on Tuesday for Xcite Broxburn pool to close along with Xcite Armadale and Xcite Livingston at the end of August as part of cost saving measures.
Council leader, Labour’s Lawrence Fitzpatrick, said he was “devastated” by the decision, and insisted “It is the case that no stone was left unturned to look at alternative options.”
However, Scottish Swimming say the benefits to community wellbeing outweigh the financial pressures the centres may bring.
In his letter, Mr Lowe also stated that the national governing body visited Broxburn pool recently to celebrate West Lothian Leisure winning the Scottish Swimming Learn to Swim provider of the year.
He said approximately 1,000 children use Broxburn pool each week along with “the elderly and the club swimmers who rely on the pool for mental and physical health and wellbeing”.
The letter reads: “As governing body for aquatic sports in Scotland, Scottish Swimming are passionate about ensuring all children and adults have access to local pools for their fitness, health, wellbeing and above all – safety.
“It is Drowning Prevention Week this week when 75,000 children in Scotland receive vital water safety lessons in pools across the country so we wonder what message these pool closures send?”
It continues: “While Winchburgh pool is the next closest to Broxburn there is no reliable, frequent public transport service and the pool is not always publicly accessible. We know there are school pools in the area, but they do not have the same access.
“We are aware of cost pressures, of squeezed local government budgets and of high energy bills but pools have always been costly to run. This is not new. But, the benefits of swimming and the savings it creates from a health, social and safety perspective are significant.”
Mr Lowe said the health and wellbeing savings from Leisure Trust and local authority pools is estimated to have reached £42m in 2022.
He told the council “the real impact of pools is on individual lives. Swimming pools are happy, safe spaces which are the beating heart of local communities”.
He concluded: “Our message is simple: Please reconsider this decision and help Broxburn, Armadale and Livingston pools to not only survive, but to thrive in the communities they serve.”
In a petition to the Scottish Parliament, currently under consideration, Scottish Swimming have calledon the government to “help keep our swimming pools and leisure centres open by providing financial investment for pools”.
The petition currently has the backing of over 8,500 signatures and has backing of MSPs including the SNP’s Fulton MacGregor.
The body say they are in dialogue with SportScotland, Community Leisure Scotland and local authority and Leisure Trust partners about the rising costs of energy and issues affecting pools.
Following the pool closures in West Lothian, Cllr Fitzpatrick said: “For 15 years and more, local government has been provided with insufficient levels of funding by the Scottish Government and that is combined with increasing costs.”
He added: “Last month the council wrote to the Scottish Government’s cabinet minister requesting financial support for this very issue given that, in the Spring budget earlier this year, the chancellor of the exchequer announced funding of £63m to support swimming pools remaining open in England.”
Ben Lamb, chief executive of West Lothian Leisure said: “This is of course upsetting for staff and users at the affected locations. The purpose of West Lothian Leisure is to provide health and wellbeing services for the region, so closing venues is not what we want to do.
“However, in the face of multiple economic pressures, change in the provision of leisure, health and wellbeing services in the region is unavoidable and the only way to secure the future of the services we provide to the people of West Lothian.”
A spokesperson for West Lothian Council said: “We share the disappointment felt that pools in West Lothian have to close due to a lack of funding.
“West Lothian has considerably more public swimming pools compared to other areas in Scotland, and the change will mean that the number of public swimming pools in West Lothian will reduce from 19 to 16. West Lothian will therefore continue to have a much higher number of pools compared to the majority of areas within Scotland.
“West Lothian Leisure has confirmed that these three facilities currently make a significant monthly financial loss and they can no longer afford to operate them. If they do not close, WLL faces the risk of insolvency, which could mean the closure of all Xcite facilities, and many more swimming pools could close.
“The three Xcite pools are expected to make a combined operating deficit of over £900,000 next year alone and require additional capital investment.”
The spokesperson added that the council has also written to the Scottish Government to highlight the decision and to “place on record the council’s view that the Scottish Government has failed communities in West Lothian through continued underfunding of local authorities”.
In response, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said it had “increased the resources available to local government in 2023-24 by more than £793m, a real terms increase of £376m or 3%, compared to the 2022-23 budget figures.”
A statement added: “While it is for local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities, we will consider what additional support can be provided to swimming pools and the wider sport and leisure sector in Scotland.”