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Royal Life Saving fears 500 public pools may close without strategic investment

Royal Life Saving fears 500 public pools may close without strategic investment
March 6, 2024

Royal Life Saving Society - Australia has expressed its fears that as many as 500 public swimming pools will close within 10 years without significant and sustained investment.

Building on its past studies, new research from Royal Life Saving estimates that 68% of community swimming pools are aged over 50 years, and that $8 billion is needed to refurbish, upgrade, or rebuild them.

Explaining the critical state of the nation's aquatic facilities RJ Houston, Royal Life Saving’s General Manager - Capability & Industry advised “it is much more than rusted and broken pipes, cracks in pool tiles, and porous concrete, many older pools are leaking significant amounts of water, leading to increased costs, environmental damage and concerns about water quality and safety.”

Local government shoulders the greatest burden, many are now unable to meet the upgrade costs without financial assistance from State and Federal governments.

Royal Life Saving research highlights:

  • The average Australian public pool was built in 1968
  • 500 (40%) of public pools will reach the end of their functional lifespan by 2030
  • $8 billion is needed to replace those 500 aging public pools
  • A further $3 billion will be needed to replace facilities ending their lifespan by 2035
  • Pools generate $9.1 billion annually in social, health, and economic benefits
  • There are over 333 million visits to public pools each year

It notes that many community pools are facing multiple threats - changing demographics, lack of local government resources, increasing energy and building costs, as well as the impacts of a changing climate.

With local governments contributing 64% of all funding for aquatic facilities, Houston is aware that regional councils are particularly vulnerable and often face the dilemma of pool closures.

Houston adds “without a more structured approach to swimming pool investment, more children will miss out on swimming lessons, communities won’t have a safe place to swim laps or cool off during summer, and many will be forced to swim in rivers, and lakes.”

Houston also notes that with a complex web of grant programs, securing funds is more challenging for those in regional and outer metropolitan areas.

Communities are often paralysed by competing agendas - laps versus lessons, families versus the needs of an ageing population. The system creates winners and losers.

This lack of a cohesive framework opens the door to suboptimal decision-making, depriving some communities of access to safe swimming facilities and essential water safety skills.

Advocating Royal Life Saving’s call for a strategic, long-term solution, Houston goes on to say “the benefits of public pools are clear, and decisive leadership is needed. There is a strong case for an investment fund dedicated to aquatic facility upgrades and new builds. Public funds should be allocated to function over form and aim to ensure communities maximise health and social benefits.”

Regional and metropolitan community needs analysis are needed to forecast the short, medium, and long terms needs. Funds should be made available for feasibility and planning stages to ensure that projects are shovel ready, carefully considered and in line with community needs.

Royal Life Saving proposes five principles for investment in swimming pool infrastructure:

  • Provide funds to support regional and metropolitan area gap analysis
  • Provide funds to support feasibility and fit-for-purpose studies early in process
  • Target and plan funding for refurbishments and new builds in growing areas
  • Prioritise functionality and community need over aesthetics and interest groups
  • Link development funds to established health and social indicators

For more information on this topic.

State of Aquatic Facility Infrastructure Report (2022) 

Health, Social and Economic Value of the National Aquatic Industry (2021) 

The Social Impact of the National Aquatic Industry (2021) 

Equal Access to Public Aquatic Facilities (2022) 

Economic Benefits of Australia’s Public Aquatic Facilities (2017)

Remote Pools - A review of Swimming Pools in Remote Areas of the Northern Territory 

Images: Emptied and abandoned pool (top, credit Shutterstock)

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