9 October 2023

UPDATED: Entry fees increased as government grapples with how to make pools pay

| James Coleman
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Stromlo Leisure Centre Photo: Michelle Kroll Region Media

Woden Sharks take to the water at Stromlo Leisure Centre. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 10:30 am, 9 October: The ACT Government says entry fees to its public swimming pools have been increased every year for the past few years.

Information on the government’s ‘Sport and Recreation’ website previously stated that these fees had not been increased since 2011, but this is now understood to be a few years old, and has been updated accordingly.

“Fees and charges for ACT’s public pools are reviewed annually in time for the commencement for the summer swim season in October,” the government now says.

“The majority of any annual increases will either be at or below the current Wage Price Index.”

8 October: Entry fees to all seven of Canberra’s public swimming pools are up for the first time in 12 years as the government investigates ways to get on top of growing costs.

From 1 October, a standard casual ticket to the Lakeside Leisure Centre in Tuggeranong, Gungahlin Leisure Centre, Canberra Olympic Pool in the city, Dickson Pool, Manuka Pool, Stromlo Leisure Centre or Active Leisure Centre in Erindale now costs $8.58 (up by 27 cents).

Concessional casual entry now costs $6.01, pensioner casual $4.29, family entry $21.88 and $2.86 for spectators.

Prices are also up across the board for swim memberships, full facility membership, aqua aerobic classes, and lane and pool hire for community groups.

Entry fees are set to increase every October for the next four years, in keeping with the Wage Price Index (subject to the Sport and Recreation Minister’s approval).

READ ALSO Main construction works set to begin on one of the ACT’s most dangerous roads

The ACT Government says the changes will ensure the “long-term sustainability of ACT Government pools” and bring them back into line with “operating costs, entry fees at private pools around Canberra, other pools around the country”.

“Under this new structure, pensioners will get a better discount than before, children under three and people with a disability will still be able to access all ACT Government pools for free, and discount lane and pool hire will still be available to community not-for-profit sport and recreation groups.”

The management and operational costs for public pools have nearly tripled since 2010, while some fees, like standard casual entry, have not changed since 2011.

An independent review of ACT public pool fees in 2016 identified they were “below the ACT and national average” for private and public pools.

The review found fees haven’t increased at the same rate as staff costs and the cost of utilities either, which make up over 70 per cent of pool facility expenses.

young girl playing at an aquatic centre

The splash park was a recent addition to the Stromlo Leisure Centre. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Recently released tender documents also reveal the government is looking for outside help to cut costs.

“The ACT Property Group (ACTPG) is seeking a suitably qualified and experienced consultant to undertake a feasibility study and provide a comprehensive costing report for future use of Territory-owned pools,” an entry on the ACT Tenders website reads.

A spokesperson for the ACT Government told Region the tender will specifically “inform decision making regarding dive-pool facilities” for the public pools, including the long-awaited one at Stromlo Leisure Centre (SLC).

It’s clear ACT pools are struggling to pay for themselves.

In the past 12 months, YMCA NSW (The Y) has walked away from the Gungahlin, Civic, Stromlo and Tuggeranong pools, and Chris Graham and Shay Kennedy exited their contract for Dickson Aquatic Centre a year ahead of the expiry date after 26 years in the job.

Former Manuka Pool manager John Taverner has previously told Region, “there have been a lot of challenges” recently.

“Insurance premiums have gone up, running costs have gone up,” he said.

“There’s also a lot of maintenance on these pools. It’s never been a very profitable business. You have to have a great summer and crowds every day to make a lot of profit.”

READ ALSO New operator appointed for five of Canberra’s public pools

Last week, Belgravia Leisure, a Victoria-based company that currently manages more than 160 pools across Australia and New Zealand, signed a $13-million deal with the ACT Government to manage the Civic, Gungahlin, Stromlo, Tuggeranong and Dickson pools.

The government assured Canberrans there would be “minimal disruption to pool and gym services”, and current staff would be given the option to stay on.

“This appointment is a promising step to providing certainty for both patrons and current staff.”

See Dickson Differently

The previous operators of the Dickson pool were there for 26 years. Photo: Region Media.

Josh Rynehart from the ACT Property Group subsequently told ABC Radio the Civic and Gungahlin sites will close temporarily for repairs ahead of summer.

“As part of the transition period, we are taking the opportunity to do some general maintenance at Civic and Gungahlin, so they’ll both be closed for short periods, probably for 48 hours before we get into the season, to do some minor works and assessments there,” he said.

Belgravia Leisure has flagged a “range of new programs and services … will be rolled out once we have transitioned”.

“Our priority at the moment is to ensure we have a smooth transition for staff and customers with minimal impact as we take over each site,” Head of Communications Kristy Brown said.

“The fees and charges currently being charged will remain.”

Belgravia Leisure previously managed the Tuggeranong and Civic pools from 1 July 2005 to 30 June 2012.

Combined, the pools cost the taxpayer nearly $17 million per year, including repairs and maintenance, and there are more than 1 million visits annually.

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Sheeeyit, looks like a rip-off’s going down at the ol’ public plunge pools ay? Fees goin up every year like clockwork since 2011 by the sounds. You know somethin’s dodgy when the government’s tryna hide that little fact online!

Bet all the pensioners are havin a bloody whinge down at RSL about it. “Another 30 cents Donna, where do they think I keep it, me thong??” Council probly put more effort into backpedalling on the web than finding ways to keep the prices down for the locals.

No surprises the contractors have done a runner too, pumpin all the cash into upkeep but bugger all coming back each season. Running public facilities ain’t no money spinner that’s for sure. Be lucky to break even with rising costs and Canberra blow-ins thinking $5 is too much for a dip.

Reckon those corporate pool barons at Belgravia will do no better long run. Few months of “new programs” then when summer’s done it’ll be nothing but complaining bout the books. Give me little Johnny at the counter over some suit from Melbourne any day!

At least the oldies and spuds get a discount I s’pose. But crikey, pay full whack and you’d wanna win Tattslotto just for a few hours splashin the grommets. The member fees’d get ya quicker than skin cancer, no joke.

Only hope is they find some fat to chew on in the budget. Else we’ll end up like Coogee – packed to the rafters with units and not a pool in sight! Where the fair dinkum are our kids meant to learn to nippers, hey? This galah’s callin shenanigans on the whole deal.

Trish O'Connor5:26 pm 09 Oct 23

Combined pool costs for a million users better value than the tram.

Debra Kirkwood9:39 am 09 Oct 23

I have been going to the Tugg Pool since it opened and every year my membership goes up , therefore i don’t get it when you say it hasn’t gone up in 11 years

Tax on fitness? The outcome is more unhealthy people?

The last few times I have been at a public pool; in the ACT, high entry fee and most the pool closed off for lap swimming with one or two swimmers per lane, in Wagga, Canowindra, Coonabarabran etc. low entry fee or free entry and a pool full of adults and children having a good time and cooling off. Canberra pools are no where near as family friendly as those in most country towns.

Linda Seaniger1:33 pm 08 Oct 23

I’m not surprised with the increased admission charges. Barr needs to pay for his antique tram folly some how. At least pools & gyms are used far more often than cycle lanes.

Continuing to attribute other issues to the Light Rail (already proven a usage success) is becoming a tedious manifestation of a ‘cargo cult’ symptom.

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