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Swimming Pools and Gyms: Covid-19 Closure

Volume 683: debated on Thursday 5 November 2020

What assessment he has made of the effect on health and wellbeing of the closure of (a) swimming pools and (b) gyms during the covid-19 outbreak. (908256)

Sport and physical activity are incredibly important for our physical and mental health, as well as a vital weapon against coronavirus. That is why we made sure that people could exercise even during the height of the previous lockdown, and we opened up grassroots sport and leisure facilities as soon as it was safe to do so. From today, there are significant restrictions on some sectors of the economy, including the closure of indoor and outdoor leisure. Exercise outdoors, however, will be allowed with our own households, on our own or with one person from another household, which is different from last time. Of course, no Government or Minister wants to see these kinds of restrictions in place, but we believe they are necessary to help to get the R number down and to get the virus under control.

Initiatives such as “Healthier Fleetwood” show that people in the town I represent take seriously the poorer health outcomes that we have in the town and are serious about making a difference, but our swimming pool has been closed since the beginning of the first lockdown and was not reopened when restrictions allowed it to be. Wyre Borough Council and the YMCA, who run it, keep telling me that they are concerned about the level of footfall not being financially viable to reopen the pool. What conversations has the Minister had with Treasury colleagues about financial support for swimming pools in areas of deprivation?

I completely understand the challenges facing many leisure facilities right across the country. Some of them have been able to open, but some have not. Some are open, but we are aware that they are in a precarious financial state. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is working closely with Sport England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the design of a £100 million scheme to help leisure centres and leisure facilities. Further details of this will be released shortly, and once the fund is open, we urge leisure centres to bid for the money and urge people to make the most of these precious facilities.

I want to ask the Minister about the broader issue. Many people in this country wanted the lockdown to come sooner than it has, and perhaps the most compelling cases I have heard come from those who work in the NHS, but those same people know that the NHS cannot by itself make our country fully well. That requires us all to live healthier lives. So while we live through the frustration of closed gyms and swimming pools that have been shut since March, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) has described, will the Minister explain what exactly he has done to write a plan for our country’s wellbeing, starting with explaining, now, precisely what is going to happen on 2 December?

Of course, through Sport England and other bodies, we have provided financial support to the tune of more than £200 million to help facilities during the coronavirus crisis, as well as having a clear plan to open both elite level sport and grassroots sport. Our intention is very much to get back to opening as many sports facilities as possible, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined a few moments ago. None of us wants these measures in place, but we have pressed the pause button. Everybody can make an individual case for a particular sport, but the problem is that if we take individual parts away, the whole thing falls down. We are asking everybody, unfortunately, for this temporary period to make sacrifices and not do some of the things they would love to do, to help to get the virus under control.