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Opinion: Are today’s aquatic recreation centres really serving the community?

Opinion: Are today’s aquatic recreation centres really serving the community?
November 14, 2021

Dr Ken Marriott asks whether today’s modern aquatic and recreation centres are really serving the community?

The veteran industry consultant suggests that “the most simple answer to this question is ‘we really just don’t know’ while a more informed response, based on dozens of case studies, is most likely to be ‘largely not!’”

Dr Marriott writes: the ‘we really just don’t know’ response is based on the fact that the research has just not been done. Aquatic recreation centres are seen as a ‘public good’: they are considered to generate healthy outcomes, they get strong support from many in the community, they often make a profit, they are a service to the community. With such ‘strengths’, few of these centres have seen a need to delve into whether they are warranted, what they are really achieving, who for and whether it’s the most effective expenditure of community funds.

Here’s some of the questions that are not being asked or answered…which reams of evidence suggest are being ignored:

  • Has the provision been based on an extensive assessment of wide community needs (not just aquatic recreation) or is provision the result of pressure from certain interests in the community (such as swimming clubs, councillors, schools), the desire to look good in the eyes of the community, or the desire to have a venue just like the Council next door?
  • Has an assessment been made of whether provision of an aquatic centre is the best use of Council funds? Were for example, health, education, employment, transport and parking alternatives explored at the same time as aquatic provision?
  • Was an analysis of the projected return on investment made before development occurred and if not, why? If so, did the provision proposal “stack up”?
  • Why are so many of the modern aquatic recreation centres so similar… even down to nearly all being ‘ARCs’ … except in communities like Frankston? Why, even in municipalities with more than one such venue, are there so few differences between them?
  • Who are and who are not the clients - in terms of age, gender, socio-economic status, cultural backgrounds, physical abilities and disabilities, and why are there such big participation gaps across these groups? Interestingly, the same questions can be asked of management and staffing
  • Why are such tiny proportions of a venue’s catchment population members or regular users? How do these figures compare with other leisure and recreation provision?
  • What catchments are served and which are overlooked? How far do people come, what influences travel patterns and what does this say about the scale, mix and frequency of provision?
  • Perhaps most critically, what are the personal, psychological, health, economic and wellbeing beneficial outcomes derived from provision and do these accrue to the total community or just users?

Decades of involvement in planning and evaluating aquatic recreation centres suggests to the author that few Councils have the information to answer these questions. Yet the extensive anecdotal evidence that exists suggests that if they did have the answers, what they provide could well be very different. Being a ‘community good’ is just not good enough when billions of dollars has now been invested in these venues.

Editor’s note: Australasian Leisure Management welcomes opinion from professionals across the industry on topics they are knowledgeable and/or passionate about.

Email: with your ideas, thoughts and/or contributions.

About the author

Dr Ken Marriott

Dr Ken Marriott trained as a geographer with special studies in urban land uses, agriculture and climatology.

Having, in 1979, completed a PhD in geography at Monash University, with his research focused on the effectiveness of then-current leisure and recreation planning strategies he went on to be Managing Director of the leisure planning consultancy HM Leisure Planning Pty Ltd from 1984 until his retirement in 2016.

His book, Community Leisure and Recreation Planning, co-authored with John Tower and Katie McDonald from Victoria University in Melbourne, was published by Routledge early in 2021. 

He wrote on the need for leisure and recreation planners and providers to drive effective action on climate change in Australasian Leisure Management issue 146.

He can be contacted on email at 




Read more from this author

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