Three Derbyshire swimming pools could close over soaring energy bills

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The charity running leisure centres in part of Derbyshire is considered closing three swimming pools and reducing staffing levels, due to an unmanageable surge in energy bills.

Freedom Leisure, which runs four leisure centres in Ashbourne, Bakewell, Matlock and Wirksworth on behalf of Derbyshire Dales District Council, says it has already reduced pool temperatures – where possible – to save money. Air conditioning, it says, will only kick in once temperatures hit 20 degrees celsius.

It says energy bills for the leisure centres have risen by £272,000 this year and this will surge to £579,000 next year. As part of its deal with the council, these costs are shared – alongside the council paying the charity £3.2 million over 10 years to run the centres.

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At a meeting later this week council officers have recommended that the authority give Freedom Leisure an additional £204,000 this year and £434,000 next year – a total of £638,000.

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Freedom Leisure had suggested it could temporarily close the swimming pools in Ashbourne, Bakewell and Matlock with immediate effect in order to cut costs – £31,000 a month.

However, this idea looks to be rejected for now, with the council set to rely on the extra funding to largely solve the issue, with other options to be considered at a later date. It also suggested shortening opening hours at the Bakewell and Wirksworth centres.

The charity had looked to temporarily reduce the number of staff at all four leisure centres – to save £70,000 a year.

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Freedom Leisure says it will be cutting back staff, with a regional manager, five area managers, the head of healthy communities, and 10 central support staff set to lose their jobs.

It also says executive management at the organisation has agreed to a temporary reduction in salaries “whilst leading and navigating the organisation through these very challenging times”.

It says the operation of the leisure centres will be “placed at serious risk” if the council does not provide the extra funding suggested by council officers.

In December 2020, the council agreed to give Freedom Leisure an additional £712,171 across three payments to support it through the pandemic and periods in which leisure centres were either forced to close or had drastically reduced footfall due to social distancing and public health and safety.