Membership prices hiked at Norfolk’s most expensive council-run pool
PUBLISHED: 06:00 26 February 2020
Regulars at Norfolk’s priciest place for a family swim are “furious”, after being informed of a hike in membership fees, less than two weeks after the 30-year-old facility’s pool was closed for storm damage repairs.
Sheringham insurance broker Andrew Cunningham-Brown has had a family membership at North Norfolk District Council-run Splash Leisure and Fitness Centre since 2018.
However, after receiving a phone call from a staff member "out of the blue" informing him that the cost of this would be increasing from £359 to £550 a year, he decided to cancel.
"It's disgusting," he said. "People who live locally contribute towards the upkeep of the centre through their council tax and I can't see how anyone is being encouraged to use it at those prices, they should lower the prices, rather than increase them and drive people away."
Since the 10-year contract for the management of NNDC centres was handed to leisure management company Everyone Active in April 2019, options have changed for those wanting to join, with Splash, which is due to be replaced with a £12.6 million new centre, no longer offering swim-only family memberships.
And for visitors, and those who either don't want to commit to a membership or cannot afford one, at £7.60 for an adult, £6.25 for a child and £21.85 for a family, peak time casual swimming prices are the highest in the county for a council-run pool, with Norfolk's next dearest - Alive Oasis, at Hunstanton - charging just £16.00 for a family swim.
Prices have also recently risen at other NNDC-run facilities, including North Walsham's Victory Swim and Fitness Centre, where a staff member - who did not want to be named - said some customers had chosen to cancel their memberships, even after being offered large discounts.
"We have had people who've been quite upset about it, it is quite a dramatic increase," she added. "But the prices before were discounted quite significantly, so, with the new company, it makes it look as if they have increased quite a lot, and we do offer concessions for people on a low income."
A complaint about the price hikes posted by Mr Cunningham-Brown on a community Facebook page attracted dozens of comments, with one single mother saying she "laughed" after being quoted £72 a month for a swim membership for herself and her four-year-old.
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Another woman said the £45 per month cost per adult she had been quoted was "really not encouraging people to take more exercise."
"The fact is, we are still in a very old facility that isn't even open at the moment," Mr Cunningham-Brown said.
"I don't think I'll be the first one to cancel, and even when the new centre is open, it won't have the same standard of facilities and, without a wave machine and water slide, I can't see how they'll be able to charge the same premium rates."
The state-of-the-art new centre, which is due to open in summer 2021 and will include a 25m pool, a 13m learner pool, community rooom, a cafe and studios, has benefited from a £1 million grant from Sport England, provided with the requirement that the facility is an asset to the community and promotes the health and wellbeing of local people and visitors.
But the project has attracted widespread criticism, with North Norfolk District Council's original scheme going £2 million over budget and more than 2,000 people signing a petition calling for the new centre to feature a beach-style layout with waterslide and wave machine similar to the one included at the current facility.
NNDC deemed the petition invalid and refused to debate it, claiming that fewer than the required 750 signatories could be identified as meeting the criteria of living, working or studying in the district.
Everyone Active contract manager Stuart Jardine said that the previous operator, Places for People, had offered heavily discounted rates which the company was unable to match and, as a goodwill gesture, Mr Cunningham-Brown had been offered a price of £420 to renew his membership.
He added that the Everyone Active company-wide membership structure also differed from Places for People's in that family swim-only memberships were not available, however additional family members could be added on to adult swim memberships.
Commenting on the admission prices charged at Splash, he said: "Our pool is the only one in the county with water slide and wave machine facilities which do have costs attached to running them."
North Norfolk District Council was approached for comment.