Northern Ireland

Fees hike 'will see Lakelanders Amateur Swimming Club close'

Lakeland Forum leisure centre
Image caption Lakeland Forum leisure centre has increased its fees for using the pool

An Enniskillen swimming club says it will be forced to close due to increased fees for using a pool following the local council merger.

Lakelanders Amateur Swimming Club said the price for hiring a lane at Lakeland Forum leisure centre has gone up from £4.20 an hour to £15, a rise of 357%.

Over the course of a year that would see the amount the club pays to the council rise from £8,000 to £30,000.

The new charges are being introduced from Wednesday.

It follows a decision by the new Fermanagh and Omagh District Council to standardise the fees charged for using facilities in all of its leisure centres.

A new swimming pool at Omagh Leisure Complex opened last year following a £6.3m redevelopment.

The Strule Swimming Club in Omagh says it is facing a similar crisis as a result of the new fees and is also considering closure.

The Lakelanders Club has been using the council swimming pool for almost 35 years and currently it has more than 100 members, most aged between seven and nine.

Last weekend, 13 swimmers from the club competed at the Ulster Championships and won seven gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze medals.

"That type of success doesn't come easily, young swimmers have to put in a lot of pool time in order to compete and win at that level," club chairman Michael O'Kane said.

"Increasing the fees by 357% will drastically limit the pool time our swimmers get each week to the point where they will be uncompetitive."

'Disappointing'

One of the medal winners, 16-year-old Natasha Love trains for three hours every day in the pool.

"It will be really disappointing because all of us are getting to such a high level in swimming now that every single hour is important and even missing one hour during the week can be detrimental to your swim," she said.

The club said it had sought to delay the hike in fees mid-way through the season and after it had pre-booked the pool at the lower rate.

It has offered to pay an increased fee of 20%, an amount which it said was still "substantial", but would allow the club to remain affordable, as well as continuing to produce competitive swimmers.

The club has received support from local councillors and the matter will be discussed at a council meeting later this month, but the council has not given any promise that the price rise will be reversed.

Image caption Last weekend, 13 swimmers from the club competed at the Ulster Championships and won seven gold medals, five silver medals and two bronze medals.

"The number of hours the club takes at the forum will have to be reduced considerably, starting with a reduction in the proposed Easter swimming schedule," Mr O'Kane said.

"We would certainly see ourselves as one of the council's biggest customers here at the forum.

"The cost of heating the pool, the cost of managing the pool, ensuring that there are lifeguards, is all going to continue, whether the Lakelanders Swimming Club is there or not.

"If we're not there the one thing that they will lose is the income that they generate from our swim club and similarly in Omagh."

This is not the first council to face protests about new swimming pool fees introduced as a result of the reorganization of local government.

In February, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council reversed a decision to increase annual swimming charges for children and adults with disabilities that meant they would have faced an annual bill of £330 instead of £11.50.

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