Councils warn of more swimming pool closures in Scotland as chlorine shortage hits leisure sector
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At least five facilities across the country have shut their doors until further notice as they deal with supply chain issues that are impacting local authorities and trusts throughout the UK.
Some bodies have also been forced to roll out new procedures to keep pools open at a time when they are in high demand, with schools set to break up for the summer holidays.
The shortages have been attributed to a backlog in supply from China because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. As a result of Brexit, chlorine manufacturers also have to obtain separate regulatory approval for their products in the UK as well as the EU.
Midlothian Council blamed the “current international situation” for its supply chain and distribution difficulties, and said it had been finding it “extremely difficult to source chlorine for several months”.
As a result, it took the decision to close four of its council-run spas at the weekend. No date has been given for when the facilities – based at the Newbattle Campus, the Lasswade Centre, Loanhead Leisure Centre and the Penicuik Centre – might reopen.
The council said its sport and leisure teams had implemented new procedures to try and keep swimming pools open.
The Mariner Leisure Centre in Camelon, near Falkirk, also closed its doors after the last swimming session on Saturday.
Falkirk Leisure and Culture said the facility would be shut for “a few days,” adding: “This is due to a UK-wide shortage of a specific chemical essential to ensuring the water quality of the swimming pool. Our supplier is doing their utmost to source this chemical as quickly as possible.”
Bill Axon, chief executive of Enjoy Leisure, the charitable trust that counts five pools among its venues in East Lothian, told The Scotsman there were uncertainties around its chlorine supplies over the summer months – a time when footfall is set to rise.
“We are grappling with problems like every other swimming pool provider in the country, however, due to limited advance purchases, the position is not immediately critical,” he said.
“Nonetheless, that is only a few weeks, not a month or two – we are very dependent on timeously getting delivery of our orders. That is outwith our control and it changes by the day.
“The other concern is the school summer holidays, as bather numbers inevitably increase during this time. It has the impact of multiplied use of chemicals to maintain pool water quality.”
Mr Axon said the trust was continually monitoring the situation, adding: “These are genuinely stressful and unpredictable times for our sector, especially as the community health benefits of regular swimming are well known, and the negative impact any closures would have for Enjoy Leisure.”
A spokeswoman for North Lanarkshire Council said it too was seeing the impact of the national chlorine shortage, and that it was taking action to mitigate the situation. However, it said the shortages may result in short-term closures.
Fife Sports and Leisure Trust has also warned its customers that its swimming pools may be affected in the future.
The trust has been forward planning with its supplier for some months and is making customers aware of the shortage ahead of expected customer demand over the summer.
Emma Walker, the trust’s chief executive, said: “We are notifying customers of a potential, short-term issue with regards chlorine supply and we are working hard to ensure we maintain supplies to keep our pools across the region open.
“We are hopeful that with our current level of supplies and our operational team working collaboratively with our supplier, we will keep pools open without affecting customers and our summer programme for juniors.”
However, some of the country’s biggest trusts said they were not experiencing any problems.
Perrotine Orr, operations director at Edinburgh Leisure, which runs 11 swimming pools, said chlorine was only used at its Portobello Swim Centre facility, and the charity had “managed fine so far”.
He said: “A new piece of kit called a hyperolyser is being installed this year, which will mean we will stop using chlorine altogether soon.”
Glasgow Life said its supply and delivery schedule of chlorine should mean that all of its pools remain open as scheduled.
A spokeswoman for the arms-length external organisation said: “We aren’t considering the closure of any pools and none have been closed due to chlorine shortage.”
The Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group, a UK-based independent membership organisation, said there was a national shortage of calcium hypochlorite, a solid form of chlorine. This has driven up prices by between 50 per cent and 60 per cent.
The chlorine issues come amid warnings that a raft of swimming pools could close as a result of higher running costs brought about by spiralling energy prices.
A survey by ukactiv, which represents gym and pool operators, found 85 per cent of public swimming pools were likely or extremely likely to have to reduce services within the next six months.
Only last week, Sport Aberdeen announced the swimming pool at Aberdeen’s Beach Leisure Centre would be temporarily decommissioned from the end of August.
Alistair Robertson, the charity’s managing director, said it was facing “unprecedented and unsustainable rises in energy costs” which are approaching £500,000.
“Leisure operators throughout the UK are facing a crisis with many swimming pools closing because of rising energy costs,” he said.