Leisure centres could fall into a state of disrepair and even be forced to close without urgent new investment from government, councils have warned.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says government will miss a chance to transform the nation’s health if it does not inject new funding into leisure infrastructure in the autumn budget.
The plea comes a week on from leisure bosses in Kirklees confirming plans to transform two under-used centres into children’s soft play and climbing facilities.
While Kirklees has opened a new sports centre for Huddersfield in 2015, the majority of its facilities are many decades old.
The next newest is the facility at the John Smith’s Stadium, which is more than 20 years old.
Kirklees Active Leisure, which runs the borough’s 12 centres, has invested in some refurbishments, most recently, £200,000 at Colne Valley Leisure Centre, but only Huddersfield has benefited from an all new centre in the past 40 years.
The LGA said councils were “just about managing” to keep leisure facilities running but in many cases, these facilities are coming to the end of their lifespan.
It said that the latest figures show that more than 58% of sports halls and 60% of swimming pools are now more than 20 years old.
Nearly a quarter of these have not been refurbished in 20 years.
This follows years of funding cuts to councils’ budgets, where between 2010 and 2020, local authorities will have seen reductions of £16 billion to their core government funding.
Councils, particularly in the north, are currently having to plough all their existing resources into meeting the increasing demand for services such as adult and children’s social care and tackling homelessness, at the expense of investing in leisure facilities.
The LGA says the funding gap facing councils will be £5.8 billion by the end of the decade and is calling on the government to launch a £400m improvement pot.
Clr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chairman of the LGA’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said: “Leisure facilities are the cornerstone of a physically and mentally healthy community and are used by thousands of families every day.
“They get people active and keep them fit and healthy, which in itself is a major long-term cost saving for the country as it prevents the need for treatment further down the line that in turn puts significant extra pressure on social care and NHS services.
“But no-one wants to go to a leisure centre that is old, tired and run down.
“Councils need to be given the resources to offer the kind of high-standard, modern facilities that the public rightly expects which in turn helps them keep fit and healthy.”