Council’s pool hire proposals ‘ludicrous,’ say swim schools

August 24, 2015

A private swimming school instructor has expressed his disappointment at recent council recommendations for hiring its facilities outside of normal working hours which, he says, have effectively “outpriced” the return of former swim schools El Sol and Swim Fit.

In June the Council agreed to allow the hire of its leisure facilities outside of normal working hours following a sustained campaign by the Save Our Swim Schools group who sought to have private swim schools El Sol and Swim Fit returned to the new swimming pool facility in Newry.  It was hoped that the Council decision would pave the way for the return of the private swim schools.

Last Monday’s Council meeting appeared to prove otherwise however, with the Council’s Active and Healthy Communities Committee passing recommendations which mean swim schools can only operate at weekends between 9pm and 7.30am at an hourly hiring cost of £172 – some 400 per cent higher than previous charges.   The proposals will now go on to be ratified at next month’s full Council meeting.

Reacting to the developments, El Sol Swim Instructor Brendan O’Hagan told The Examiner the Council proposals have out-priced the return of the swim schools and said the weekend opening hours available to private groups were “ludicrous.”

Mr O’Hagan confirmed that previously the swim schools paid in the region of £38 per hour to carry their private swimming lessons but this has now increased to around £230 per hour.

“This figure has been arrived at because the Shadow Council, which was established between the transition of the old Council and the new Council, came up with the suggestion that any outside agency or private agency would have to cover the exact costs of opening the facility, plus an additional 10 per cent,” explained the El Sol instructor.

“At the minute, the Council is running the facility at a loss and is subsidised through the Council itself.  But they want any private organisation to actually run at a profit and give them 10 per cent on top of that- which is totally unfair,” he added.

The swimming instructor ridiculed the proposed opening hours for swim schools, outlining that a swim school run from 9pm on a Saturday and Sunday was “simply a non-starter.”

“Even if they gave it to us for nothing, we couldn’t do it.  Over 90 per cent of our clients are children,” said Mr O’Hagan, who added that the swim schools and their supporters were “disappointed but not really surprised” by the Council’s recommendations.

“We are still at sea as to what’s happening and what the next move is,” he admitted.

Responding to The Examiner’s request for an explanation for the exorbitant hire prices and unrealistic opening hours for private swim schools, a spokesperson from Newry Mourne and Down Council said,

“Officers were asked to bring forward proposals for the use of facilities outside of opening hours for members decision.

“With the success of the swimming lesson programme within Newry Leisure Centre, weekly swim lesson spaces were increased to meet initial expectations.

“To alleviate the further demand, a review was undertaken on current pool programmes and it was identified that there were no further spaces within public opening times to facilitate further lessons without impacting public recreational swim space and also public lane swimming provision.

“Hire charges were based on a previous Council decision taken in December 2014.”