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Star comment: The clock is ticking on leisure centres

By Shropshire Star | Opinions | Published:

Ten leisure centres across Shropshire face the possibility of having their financial plug pulled.

What then? Shropshire Council says it is not planning to close the centres.

But if council money is not forthcoming to keep them going, it does raise the question of how they could possibly survive. And if they do not survive, then the quality of life in the places they serve would be significantly diminished.

The move would save the council money, but whether it would save the public purse money in the longer run is an open question. We are all being urged to keep ourselves fit and generally look after ourselves, as if we do not then we are more likely to be an expensive burden on the National Health Service in later life.

Snatching away opportunities on their doorstep for Salopians to take part in swimming, sport, and other beneficial physical activities will mean they are less fit and healthy, and more likely to need the services of the NHS. This is the hidden cost which would follow the loss of these leisure centres - if it came to that.

There is also a social cost, as they are places where people meet, gather, and socialise. They play a part in preventing social exclusion.

However, it does not follow that the loss of council funding would lead to closure, although the loss of a financial footing which is strong and stable, to coin a phrase, inevitably creates a dark cloud of uncertainty. The hope will be that should these plans become concrete, there will be alternative financial models which can be explored.

This would naturally mean having to find other sources of cash, and perhaps much more direct involvement from the community.

Already we have seen with some libraries that it is possible for local groups and organisations to step up to the mark when the council says its sad goodbye. Leisure centres are a completely different kettle of fish to the book landscapes of libraries, posing immense challenges in funding them and running them.

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Six centres could see their funding axed before the end of 2018/19, which will be here before you know it. They are at Wem, Shrewsbury, Shifnal, Much Wenlock, Highley, and Craven Arms. Four others have until 2023.

Given the terrible events in London, we shall refrain from saying that their loss would be a disaster, but it would be a grievous blow.

There is time to find workable solutions. But the clock has started ticking.

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