Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why are council swimming pools losing so much money?

Millions of euro are being spent by councils to prop up swimming pools around Ireland, with very few public pools showing a profit judging by figures put together by the Irish Examiner. 

This was a disturbing story to read. Yes, it's shocking councils invested so much to get so little back, and that tax-payers are now faced with huge bills. One council in Leitrim will pay  €6.1m in 2018 to buy back the pool from investors under the terms of the development plan according to journalist Conor Ryan.

But in the context of sport and this blog, the really shocking information is that people just don't swim. These pools were presumably built on business plans which predicted a certain level of usage. (Maybe I am presuming too much) And they are not getting that - Wicklow council for example is owned €20m by the people behind two new pools there.

Paralympian Ellen Keane in action PIC Dublin People

These figures go against the received wisdom which says swimming is one of the (few) popular sports here. When I say popular I mean popular to do - Irish people love watching sports, it's the sweat and action part we don't do so well. 

Just last year the ESRI (our State figures organisation) said: "Almost 7% of adults aged 16 and over swim each week, amounting to roughly 230,000 regular swimmers ...  the appeal of swimming to both genders and to people of all ages means that swimming is more popular overall than soccer, golf or Gaelic games."

They're certainly not swimming in the rivers and lakes, as last summer tragically showed us when an unusually hot summer resulted in multiple outdoor drownings. 

So are there too many pools for those 230,000 people? Or did they perhaps exaggerate their swimming prowess just a little ...

Another possibility is people are still going to the more expensive (and more luxurious) fitness centres instead of the public pools. This would go against the Recession Ireland narrative but if people are swimming, they must be doing it somewhere. 

These fitness centres can charge anything from €70 monthly for swimming and leisure classes. Although many of the cheaper public pools offer just as many classes so I'm not sure why you would pay more unless there is a stigma around going to the council pool. 

Lots of questions and very few answers in this post I'm afraid  - what do you think is going on?

(Disclaimer - I do use my local council pool, mainly because you can pay per swim. I prefer outdoors except when it's Baltic-like in the winter so I'm not there too often.)

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