LEISURE centres in West Lancashire may need a “financial rescue package” from the government to reopen, according to The District Councils’ Network.
The group, which is a cross-party member-led network of 187 district councils, is forecasting a financial hit to leisure centres of around £305 million this year – which the group claims will send many out of business.
Despite many lockdown restrictions now being lifted by the government, leisure centres remain closed.
The unknown length of the continued closure and the need for social distancing, and the implications of reduced customer confidence and footfall, are concerning councils in the months ahead.
However, whilst West Lancashire Council say they would welcome government support, they are already planning for the reopening of their leisure centres once the green light is given.
A spokesperson said: “We welcome the steps that are being taken by the District Council Network, the Local Government Association and Sport England to gain government support for local authority leisure centres during these challenging times.
“COVID 19 has had an immediate and significantly detrimental effect on many sectors and this has definitely been the case for local authority leisure centres that rely heavily upon the income provided by customers to offset the costs of operation.
“West Lancashire Borough Council and West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust are currently working closely to ensure safe access to facilities for everyone to enjoy once the restrictions are relaxed. Customers will be required to keep their distance from others and to help with this the number of people able to access the facilities at any one time will be limited.
“The return to certain sports and activities is also dependent on national guidance. This is likely to see some sports able to return straight away and others returning later. To help with this we are developing a phased reopening plan that will allow us to meet the peaks in demand as they occur.
“In the longer term West Lancashire Borough Council remains committed to the development of new facilities for the Borough and are currently revisiting plans to reflect the impact of the virus.
“Like other councils across the country we are really keen to move forward as we know how much sport and leisure facilities mean to our communities and the important part they play in all our lives.”
Cllr Dan Humphreys, the District Councils’ Network lead member for enhancing quality of life, said: “After months of lockdown, and being unable to visit their local gym or swimming pool, it would be a devastating blow to communities to find they no longer have their local leisure centre, once we come out of this pandemic.
“But the sad reality is that our leisure centres are in a crisis right now. Their income has plummeted and some may never recover without a lifeline from government which helps stabilise leisure centres in the short term.
“As local leaders, district councils are committed to tackling this health and economic crisis now and in the future.
“Leisure and sport will be critical to improving the health of people from all ages and backgrounds as we emerge from this crisis. As destinations in themselves, they also draw people in to town centres creating community spaces and support for local businesses.
“We should now come together to create a leisure and sport service that plays its full role in the national health and economic recovery.”