New fees for swimming baths

PLANS to introduce new swimming charges for youngsters and pensioners at a popular leisure centre after a free scheme was axed by the Government have been approved.

People over 60 and youngsters under 16 had been able to swim free of charge at the Mill House Leisure Centre, in Raby Road, Hartlepool, under a Labour Government initiative.

But the funding for the scheme was pulled by the new coalition Government and Hartlepool Borough Council say they can't afford to continue running the scheme.

Pat Usher, the council's sport and recreation manager, said the local authority would be faced with a funding shortfall of nearly 56,000 if the free scheme continued.

A new set of charges for over 60s and under 16s has been approved by civic chiefs and they will be introduced from the start of August.

The new charges were approved by independent councillor Hilary Thompson at a meeting of her culture, leisure and tourism portfolio.

The centre's Active Card, which has an administration fee of 2, gives preferential member rates as well as concessionary rates to town residents.

Non-members over 60 will now be charged 2.20, over 60s with an Active Card 1.70 and 1.25 for over 60s from Hartlepool with an Active Card.

Non-members under 16 currently pay 1.80, but from August, a 1.50 fee will be introduced for an Active Card member and 1.10 for a junior from Hartlepool with an Active Card.

Currently, over-60s without an Active Card are paying the full adult price of 2.70.

Officers hope this will help compensate for the loss of the free scheme.

Coun Thompson, a member of the Association of Independent Councillors, said: "It is disappointing to say the least that the Government funding has been ended prematurely.

"I am sure that 15 months of free swims has helped a large number of over 60's take up the sport and improve their fitness levels and I hope that it continues.

"I feel that we have no option but to approve the cessation of the free swim scheme and these new charges seem to be the fairest way to do it."

The free swim initiative is due to finish at the end of this month, 10 months before it was officially due to end.