Energy Efficiency

15 Mar 2023

‘Vital Lifeline’: Government Takes Plunge With £40M of Energy Efficiency Funding for Struggling Swimming Pools

15 Mar 2023  by businessgreen   

New funding for energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects to be accompanied by a further £20m of emergency support

The government has today announced the Spring Budget will include £63m of new funding to help swimming pools cope with soaring energy bills and drive investment in energy efficiency upgrades.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to tomorrow confirm that a new one-year fund is to be introduced, including £40m to fund energy efficiency and clean energy projects and a further £23m of emergency grant funding to help public swimming pools cope with short term cost pressures.

The government has reportedly overseen the closure of almost 400 public swimming pools since 2010, as local authorities have struggled to cope with swingeing budget cuts.

However, the sector has come under even more pressure in recent years as energy costs have more than doubled on the back of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, leading to fears hundreds more leisure centres could face closure.

The government has said it will start to roll back its Energy Bill Relief Scheme for non-domestic customers from April, which has effectively frozen prices for business and public sector bodies since the autumn. But the Treasury has acknowledged that targeted support will be needed for some more energy intensive sectors that are continuing to struggle with energy bills that remain at historically high levels.

As such, Hunt will tomorrow confirm that the more than 800 public pools in England will able to apply for funding support. Local authorities will be invited to bid for funding, with the Sport England agency tasked with managing the competitive process.

The move is also expected to provide a boost to local authority decarbonisation efforts, given leisure centres with swimming pools are estimated to be responsible for up to 40 per cent of local authority carbon footprints.

"Soaring bills are hitting us all hard, and community pools have been thrown in the deep end," said Hunt. "I know they are loved by millions of people. This vital lifeline will keep them afloat."

Many of the UK's swimming pools were built decades ago and as such a range of options are available to help reduce their emissions and energy bills, including waste heat technologies, combined heat and power systems, and energy efficiency upgrades. However, such projects tend to require significant upfront funding to then unlock energy bill savings over time - investments local authorities have struggled to justify given their well-documented budgetary pressures.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the government was "stepping in to safeguard our nation's public swimming pools, providing them with support for a sustainable future that will help ensure that generations to come can take the plunge".

The move was welcomed by Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of Sport England, who described the funding as "a significant and welcome amount of support from the government that will offer a lifeline to many public leisure centres across England as well as help sustain them into the future… We know how difficult the present situation is and have been working hard to ensure these providers get the support they need. We'll now turn our efforts to supporting the process in the weeks ahead to distribute the funding made available today to ensure it goes where it is needed the most."

The move comes as the government continues to face calls to ramp up funding for both domestic and non-domestic energy efficiency programmes.

Last autumn, Hunt announced a new target to cut UK energy demand by 15 per cent by 2030 and promised to provide £6bn of new energy efficiency funding from 2025 onwards.

But he was reportedly advised by officials that current levels of funding for energy efficiency programmes were insufficient to meet the new target, while businesses and campaign groups warned the government was not on track to meet its promise to mobilise £9bn of energy efficiency funding over the course of this Parliament.

As such, the government is facing on-going calls from businesses and campaign groups for the Treasury to urgently pull forward the £6bn of promised funding and introduce a host of new tax incentives, skills programmes, and grants schemes to accelerate the roll out of energy efficiency upgrades.

The new funding for swimming pools is set to form part of a Budget that will include a number of new green energy commitments, including plans to invest £20bn over the next 20 years in carbon capture and clean energy infrastructure and plans to create a dozen new Investment Zones across the country designed to catalyse the development of strategically important sectors, including green industries.

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