Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Roy MacAlister

  The submissions and evidence in the enclosures relating to swimming facilities available in communities are my own independent views and may not represent those of the organisations of which I am a member. They are based on my experience as a Chairman and President of District Sports committees, as a competitor here and overseas, and as a swimming administrator. I have no professional interest in the subject.

  Submission as invited in Notice No. 5 dated 9 November 2001 relating to the item, Swimming facilities available in communities.

  This submission consists of Page 1 showing the submitted conclusions followed by the detailed evidence and premises upon which the conclusions are based.

  Objectives. The public want suitable swimming facilities located in reasonable proximity to their homes with safe and convenient access. The facilities should provide for the teaching of swimming to all ages, educational use, recreational and family use, lane swimming, aquafit and suitability for low level competition by schools, local clubs and similar organisations. Cost to users is a factor but safety, convenience and quality are more important to the majority of the public.

  Provision. Local Authorities should remain the principle providers of community facilities in the United Kingdom. Outside assistance with capital expenditure is desirable indeed essential for most Local Authorities. Government departments in relation to Health and Safety, Education, Health, Environment have responsibilities in respect of these facilities and their management. Financial assistance direct from the Treasury or the Lotteries Commission must depend upon acceptance of conditions relating to the government departments' responsibilities.

  Management. Good management is essential, clearly in the fields of health and safety but also in the programming of play and fun activities. Technical knowledge and control is and has usually been of a high standard within the limits of the equipment, but the quality of the organisation and of the supervision of the staff has been variable. Frequently neither the local authority nor their professional staff have the knowledge or experience to supervise facilities staff effectively. Central Government should establish a system of independent inspections of the facilities. Financial assistance would depend upon acceptance of such inspections and of implementation of any recommendations. Initially the emphasis would be on help and guidance.


  The City of Sunderland conducted extensive research this year, 2001, before planning new sports facilities. This included consulting citizens by poll. This showed, inter alia an overwhelming percentage of participation in swimming over all other sports. This is a mainly urban area but supported the results of an earlier national inquiry.

  In respect of rural communities, without specific research, experience of existing facilities suggests a similar public attitude. Parents are very willing to contribute towards travel costs from village primary schools for swimming lessons and protest if they are withdrawn. Where facilities do exist the attendance figures suggest that participation may be even greater than in urban areas.

  It is essential that there is provision for all the listed activities. Ancillary features such as fitness rooms, cre"ches, saunas and café enhance popularity and improve viability. The water should include an area of Width eight metres, Length 25 metres and Depth 0.9/1.2 metres to cater for teaching, lane swimming and competition.

  Assessment of needs related to population. Experience of existing facilities indicates that one such multi-purpose is needed per 25,000 in fairly well populated rural areas, but in urban areas with alternative traditional pools which provide teaching, competition and lane swimming one per 50,000 may be adequate at present. There are small towns with a population of 5,000/10,000 where the full range including ancillary facilities are provided which are fully used.


  State provision has in the main been limited to Eastern Europe. My comment is limited to visits for competition and the observations of their sports scientists. Comment was generally unfavourable, but lack of resources was main problem. Delays, lethargy, confused directions and political influence may affect central provision everywhere. Private provision is widespread throughout Western Europe, and the rest of the world, mainly in fitness clubs and hotels. The quality of many fitness clubs is high. They can be provided and maintained without any burden on the public purse. However to be commercially viable they must target specific and exclusive groups, hotel guests and adults keen on fitness. Public financial support would be needed if private bodies had to cater for the needs of the general public.

  A major problem for local authorities is the constraints imposed by finance. Suitable location is essential and available sites particularly in or near to urban areas pose problems. Without outside support the facilities may never be provided or built in the wrong place. Safe pedestrian access as well as by public or private transport is essential to users and may be important in recruiting staff.

  There are ample qualified and experienced professionals and firms now to design these facilities.

  MANAGEMENT. The extent to which the needs of the public are achieved is dependent on management. Thus must include organisation and programming of the activities, direction of the staff and supervision of their work, inspection of equipment and apparatus and to ensure that staff comply with instructions. This is onerous and a high standard of training and dedication is necessary. These exist. Universities are producing increasing numbers of graduates with Sports degrees. Their career structure includes management of leisure facilities and the quality of management will reflect the status accorded to it. From the point of view of the local authority such training will ensure sensitivity to any local needs in programming eg for exclusive ladies sessions or provision for the handicapped.

  The Education department of the Amateur Swimming Association is the main provider of training and qualifications for staff employed on specialist duties. The ASA has sometimes been consulted about the programming.

  Formal evidence of the relative success of management at different centres now operating is not available. The public knows. Good management is revealed by increasing revenues and stability of staff.

26 November 2001

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