Council to keep free swimming scheme in Stevenage afloat

FREE swimming for children and pensioners is to be extended until the end of the summer school holidays, before being axed in September.

The announcement from Stevenage Borough Council comes after an angry reaction from councillors and the general public following the Government’s decision in June to scrap the free swimming scheme.

Initially free swimming for under 17s and over 60s was due to be stopped on July 31, but the council has now confirmed that the service will still be available until children go back to school at the beginning of September.

Following its introduction by the Labour government in 2008, 25,384 uses were made of the free scheme at Stevenage Swimming Pool between April 2009 and March 2010 at a subsidy of approximately �72,000.

This equates to �3 a head and meant the free swimming scheme was cost neutral for Stevenage Leisure Ltd, who operate the project on the council’s behalf.

Howard Burrell, executive councillor for children and young people, culture, sport and leisure, said: “These uses without doubt have helped keep people fitter, out of hospital and helped us to fight obesity in children and younger people.

“It is, therefore, a false saving and sends very clear signals to us all as to where this so called coalition government is really heading.

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“Much as we would like to continue this indefinitely we have, after serious consideration, regretfully come to the decision that the strictures this government is imposing upon us means that we are unable do this for a longer period.”

Ann Vincent, who has two children at schools in Stevenage who have benefitted from the scheme, said: “I just think it’s disgraceful that they are taking free swimming away from the children.

“The parents I’ve spoken to who know about it are absolutely appalled.”

Mrs Vincent, who lives in Jessop Road, Stevenage, added: “The Government moans about children being overweight and then takes these activities that help away from them.”

The announcement has not affected North Herts District Council as it made a decision not to take up the scheme when it was introduced in 2008.

*Do you think there should be free swimming for youngsters and the elderly? Comment below or email nick.gill@thecomet.net

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