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Boris should splash out to save leisure centres after Covid cash crisis, Tower Hamlets mayor urges

Govenment must splash out to save public leisure facities, mayor urges... like Poplar's swimming pool reopened in 2016. Picture: Mike Brooke

Govenment must splash out to save public leisure facities, mayor urges... like Poplar's swimming pool reopened in 2016. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Leisure centres face a threat of shutting their doors again after Coronavirus despite East London’s “Olympic legacy” because public funds are running out, the prime minister is being warned.

Mayor John Biggs reopening Poplar Baths as a leisure centre in 2016 after 30 years. Picture: Mike BrookeMayor John Biggs reopening Poplar Baths as a leisure centre in 2016 after 30 years. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mayor John Biggs has written to Boris Johnson this week urging him to step in and throw a “financial lifeline” to swimming pools and gyms.

Centres operated for Tower Hamlets Council by Greenwich Leisure were closed for four months during the lockdown in line with government guidelines to prevent Covid spreading.

But that’s caused a major loss of income, the mayor points out.

“Investing in these facilities would be the best way to help our future Olympians,” he said.

Mayor's letter to PM... Mayor's letter to PM... "Our finances are hit by Coronavirus, so government needs to step in to secure future of public leisure centres." Picture: Mike Brooke

“It’s important that the prime minister listens, so that people can access gyms as part of the Olympic legacy we were promised, when the government is promoting an anti-obesity campaign.”

The Mayor agreed at his cabinet meeting last week to a deal to pay Greenwich Leisure almost £600,000 as the council’s temporary financial lifeline.

It meant a phased reopening of leisure facilities, with four centres initially reopening with “Covid safe” measures in place.

Cabinet member Sabina Akhtar said: “We’ve done the right thing by stepping in now to protect gyms and leisure centres.

Cllr Sabina Akhtar... Cllr Sabina Akhtar... "Our gyms and leisure facilities are missing out." Picture: Mike Brooke

“But all local authorities are facing a budget ‘black hole’ due to Coronavirus. Our leisure facilities are missing out.”

Cllr Akhtar fears running out of cash would be a bar too high to jump.

“It would be a shame to announce leisure centres reopening, only for the government not to intervene which risks closing the doors again,” she added.

The Mayor highlights in his letter to Downing Street that the government “needs to step in to secure the long-term future of public sector leisure centres”, as the council’s finances have been hit by Coronavirus.

Solution to leisure centre closures? Bethnal Green's Globe Town outdoor gym. Picture:Tony SnookSolution to leisure centre closures? Bethnal Green's Globe Town outdoor gym. Picture:Tony Snook

The government in some cases has said it would cover 75p-in-the-£ losses where they are more than five per cent of income from sales, fees and charges. But this doesn’t apply in this case to the council’s leisure contract, the mayor points out.

The government pledged a “massive sporting legacy” before the 2012 Olympics to ensure public access to sports and leisure, no matter people’s backgrounds or where they live.

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