Following government spending cuts, Salford Council has discontinued free swimming for under 17s from the end of August, and for over 60s since the end of July.
"It's disappointing that we have to make these tough decisions" says Barry Warner, the Council's Lead member for Culture and Leisure "…locally we've had to think carefully about what we're able to afford but at the same time we recognise the benefits of free swimming…"
Following the introduction of free swimming in Salford, participation increased by 17%, according to figures presented to the NHS Trust Board in May, which undoubtedly would have helped towards targets to reduce obesity and increase healthy living in the city. Now many families simply won't be able to afford regular swims, thanks to what Councillor Warner calls "the scale of government cuts".
Meanwhile, families will be thrilled to hear that Salford Council is giving £50,000 in sponsorship to the British Gas Great Salford Swim 2010 (plus £10,000 support `in kind for `marketing and infrastructure') which happens on the 26th September and costs £30 to enter.
For £50,000 the Council could have given an extra 33,333 free swimming sessions to under 17s.
The Great Salford Swim involves adults jumping in the water at Salford Quays and swimming one mile between Dock 9, near The Lowry, and Dock 8, near the Watersports Centre. For £30 they can do this. But earlier in the summer the police issued warnings to any local people thinking of swimming in the Quays…
"It is against the law to swim in Salford Quays and those found swimming or jumping into the water from bridges and the dock sides risk arrest" said PC Jon Raffles from Salford Central Neighbourhood Policing Team.
And to deter such dangerous and anti-social behaviour the police have launched Operation Marne, "providing a high visibility presence" at Salford Quays to enforce the annual dispersal orders which allows them to break up groups of two or more people if they are suspected of "causing harassment or acting in an intimidating or anti-social way".
Every year the Salford Star gets e-mails and letters from local people complaining that the dispersal orders on the Quays – home to MediaCityUK – are just being used to sanitize the area.
"The GMP seem to have a policy of policing Salford Quays differently to the way they police other areas of Salford" wrote one resident in July.
This seems to be underlined by statements from the police…
"We want residents and visitors to the Quays to feel safe and enjoy the warm weather during the summer break" PC Raffles added "I believe the dispersal orders will help achieve this as well as encourage people to behave in a responsible manner…There are more safer and fun alternatives available across the city."
The police encouraged local people to keep away from the Quays and instead use local swimming pools… "Those interested in swimming can do so safely at Fit City Clarendon and other Fit City centres across Salford"
Except that, from the end of August, under 17s are being charged to use local swimming pools. People might be asking what kind of messages Salford Council is sending out…
"Flagship attractions like the Great Swim not only give residents the chance to see world class events on their doorsteps" says Councillor Warner "they bring visitors to the city, pumping millions of pounds into our economy."
• Over 60s are now charged £3 to use local swimming pools, although they can get unlimited swimming for £28 a year.
• From August 29th under 16s will be charged £1.50 per swim.
Since free swimming was introduced in Salford there were over 150,000 visits to pools by young people. The government grant for free swimming for 2009/10 was £196,287.