West Northamptonshire revealed to be a public swimming pool desert compared to rest of country

Area has one of lowest amounts of public swimming space in England, according to exclusive analysis

By Jack Duggan
Friday, 27th August 2021, 3:54 pm
Updated Friday, 27th August 2021, 4:14 pm

West Northamptonshire has one of the lowest amounts of public swimming space in the country, according to exclusive analysis.

A study by the JPIMedia Data Team, which this newspaper is part of, has found the East Midlands has less than half the public pool space found in the South East.

West Northants has 515-square-metres of public pool space per 100,000 people - the 38th lowest rate in England and far below the national average of 890sqm.

West Northamptonshire has one of the lowest amounts of public swimming space in the country, according to analysis by the JPIMedia Data Team. Photo: Shutterstock

The area has just nine public pools at six sites but no lidos, diving or Olympic-size pools.

West Northamptonshire Council leader Jonathan Nunn said: “We do have a good standard of provision across West Northamptonshire but it is something we are always looking to improve on.

“There are four public pools in Northampton, one in each of Daventry, Towcester and Brackley, and one in Moulton, plus there are other pools just over our boundaries in places like Banbury, Rugby, Market Harborough, Wellingborough and Milton Keynes.

“What this study doesn’t take into account is the amount of additional provision in the area, such as secondary school pools which are made available for public use, and private leisure clubs which cater for many people.

Great Britain Diving Federation president Jim McNally

“Having said all of that, we’re happy to discuss provision with our local swimming clubs to see if there are any practical opportunities available for us to improve things further.”

Great Britain Diving Federation president Jim McNally said the Government’s policy of providing sport for all was 'in tatters'.

“This is a situation which is getting worse and worse and the grassroots sport is being allowed to wither on the vine," he added.

Swim England said it predicted the nation would lose 40 percent of its existing pools by the end of the decade, 'potentially shutting millions out of the activities they love'.

Swimmer Duncan Scott with his gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last month. Photo: Getty Images

The Government said its £100 million National Leisure Centre Recovery Fund had 'secured the survival and reopening of more than 1,100 swimming pools all over the country'.

JPIMedia’s analysis looked at all pools which are open to the public for free or on a pay-and-swim basis, excluding commercially-owned sites or those only available to members.

There are 1,997 public pools across 1,187 sites in England, totalling 503,233 square metres of pool space.

But when measured against the size of the population, some areas' facilities are spread more thinly than others.

The analysis found there are three regions without an Olympic-size pool: the North West, East of England and East Midlands, although each have 50m pools which do not meet Olympic width standards.

Rushmoor in Hampshire enjoys the most swimming pool space, at 5,450 square metres per 100,000 people, but 50 council areas have just a tenth of this provision, including West Northants.

Mr McNally warned that access to diving pools had become a 'postcode lottery', thanks to the loss of ageing facilities and a recent funding focus by sports bodies on a handful of ‘centres of excellence’ for elite athletes.

“To that end, the Government policy of providing sport for all is in tatters,” he said.

“I think there are 11 centres of excellence scattered across the country but they are not scattered demographically properly.

“For example, Birmingham is only now getting a major swimming pool and diving pool when up to now it has not had one, and the only reason it is getting one is for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“It is the second largest city in the UK and it had no diving provision for many, many years.”

Earlier this month, Olympic gold medallist Duncan Scott warned of the 'sad' loss of pools across the UK.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Scottish swimmer said: “Where I grew up, in Clackmannanshire, we have not actually got a pool, they’ve all recently shut.”

The 24-year-old said learning to swim was 'so important for kids to, firstly, feel safe and confident within the water, but it is also quite an important social skill'.

“I think it is quite sad, so hopefully over the coming months something is done about it," he added.

A spokesperson from Swim England said: “For everyone to be able to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of swimming, it is absolutely vital that there are appropriate facilities in the right locations.

“Swim England’s 2019 Value of Swimming report forecast that the number of pools in England is set to decline by 40 per cent by the end of the decade, potentially shutting millions out of the activities they love.

“The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the issue and it’s clear that local authorities need both short and long-term funding for facilities.

“Next month, we will be publishing a Value of Facilities report containing new insight which will give a clearer picture of the issue and the steps that need to be taken.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "We're prioritising the nation's fitness and health as we build back better from the pandemic, and swimming is a fantastic sport for all ages to enjoy.

“The government has provided an unprecedented £1 billion of public money to ensure the survival of the grassroots, professional sport and leisure sectors.

“This includes the £100 million National Leisure Centre Recovery Fund which secured the survival and reopening of more than 1,100 swimming pools all over the country.

“On top of this Sport England, the Government's funding agency, has provided over £8.5 million to swimming and diving projects, and over £16 million to Swim England since 2017.

“We are putting the support in and are sure that Team GB’s incredible success at Tokyo 2020 will inspire many people to get swimming.”