Over-60s free swims snub sparks protest

PUBLISHED: 16:59 17 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:24 12 August 2010

ANGRY pensioners will lobby a council after it refused to take part in a scheme offering free swimming for the over-60s. More than 40 older residents

ANGRY pensioners will lobby a council after it refused to take part in a scheme offering free swimming for the over-60s.

More than 40 older residents attended a Bromley Council on Ageing (BCA) meeting at Community House, in South Street, Bromley, last Wednesday when they decided to petition the council about its decision, branding it "small-minded and petty".

Bromley is one of only two London boroughs, the other being Westminster, not to adopt the government scheme to give over-60s free access to swimming pools.

It claims it would cost too much but pensioners say the long-term benefits would be worth the expenditure.

Retired playgroup manager Pat Palmer, 72, of Beckenham Road, said: "I'm annoyed. Bromley council is obsessed with saving money in the bank and not spending on the people who gave it to them. It is small-minded, petty and shortsighted.

"I have arthritis and can't walk as far as I used to, but I can swim. The council thinks it will cost a fortune but not every person over 60 is going to go swimming."

Bromley MyTime, which operates the borough's leisure centres, takes around £250,000 from older swimmers. The government has pledged £91,000, leaving the council to find a £160,000 shortfall.

Bromley council Labour group leader John Getgood, who was at the meeting, said: "That amount is equal to about £1.30 a year for the average council tax payer. The benefit to the community of encouraging more of our elderly residents to stay fit and healthy is worth such a small amount of council tax.

"Even if more elderly people started swimming, it wouldn't cost MyTime more to allow three people to go swimming than one. And in any case, that is the outcome we want. The loss of income figure would remain constant based on last year's usage.

"It was also pointed out that some elderly swimmers are now taking their families swimming with them to pools in other boroughs, so MyTime are losing income anyway."

BCA vice-chair Maureen Falloon added: "In reaching its decision, Bromley council has taken a worse-case scenario in arriving at the cost had it joined the scheme. Our neighbouring borough, Bexley, found in the first month that only six per cent of people aged 60-plus have registered."

The Times received scores of letters from angry residents about free swimming but when we contacted the council it said its "position remains unchanged".

BCA and Age Concern Bromley will be organising the petition. Anyone wishing a copy should call 020 8 315 1850.

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