Boy with male swimming coach

Oxford City Council investing £10.9m in ‘greener’ leisure centres

Public leisure centres in Oxford are getting £10.9m investment to cut carbon, as part of the council’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The authority’s Cabinet has confirmed that four leisure centres in the city will benefit from the decarbonisation programme, a change from the initial plan, which was to replace the heating systems at all six public leisure sites.

Over the summer, work has been undertaken to understand in detail what this involves and it has indicated that the cost and complexity of replacing heating systems at all six sites is not achievable within the approved budget.

Leisure centres contribute around 40% of Oxford City Council’s carbon footprint, with swimming pools among the most energy intensive, as they must be kept at a constant temperature.

The upgrade work will see gas boilers replaced with heat pumps that transfer heat from the air or water, which will cut carbon emissions from the council’s operations as a whole by around 21%.

The work is part of the council’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and become a zero carbon council, aiming for an average yearly cut in its carbon emissions of 10% every year until 2030.

Oxford City Council’s main focus of activity to achieve this will be to affect a rapid switch to decarbonising its power for heating systems across its buildings and its fleet vehicles.

In the most recently published figures for 2019/20, the council’s leisure centres reduced their carbon emissions by 3.5% and these decarbonisation investments will cut leisure centre emissions by more than half.

The council investment in decarbonising leisure centres also supports its wider goal of achieving a zero carbon Oxford by 2040, bringing the benefit of climate action to communities that may be financially excluded from many other carbon reduction initiatives.

Oxford City Council said they aim to ensure all communities benefit from action on climate change and by reducing the carbon footprint of leisure centres, they said it secures the long-term future of the centres to provide valuable leisure spaces across the city.

The funding was awarded by the government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund and under this programme, must be spent by the end of March 2022.

Given the cost of the project, the authority has committed to completing all of the work in this timeframe to take advantage of the funding. 

The upgrade work will require sites to be partially or fully closed for certain periods and the council is working closely with leisure partner Fusion Lifestyle and contractors to minimise the disruption to leisure centre provision across the city.

Work at one of the facilities will take place during normal winter closure, while work will be carried out in phases so that leisure centre members can use other facilities if their local site is closed.

Longer opening hours and increased capacity at other sites, as well as hiring temporary boilers and air handling units, are options being explored to reduce the impact on customers. 

Preliminary work for the decarbonisation programme has already begun in order to understand the complexity of the task and contractors for the main work have been appointed, with work expected to start in the next month.

The council has worked extensively with community representatives in the run up to this project to understand the needs of different groups and to keep them informed as plans develop.

Commenting, Oxford City Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, Councillor Tom Hayes said:

“Leisure centres provide essential services for our residents’ wellbeing, but they are currently a big contributor to the council’s carbon footprint.

“These works will reduce Oxford City Council’s own carbon footprint by more than a quarter, which is vital, as we work towards a zero carbon council and a zero carbon Oxford.

“This will be good for residents’ wellbeing, as well as the planet. We all need to play our part in tackling the climate crisis and I’d ask residents for their support and patience while we help get our leisure centres fit for a low carbon city.”

Oxford City Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, Councillor Mary Clarkson added:

“The decarbonisation programme will secure the low carbon future of our public leisure centres. We are committed to providing high-quality leisure facilities to provide exercise and wellbeing opportunities for residents.

“Our centres are in the heart of the communities where they are needed and offer affordable membership and discounts.”

Watch the Public Sector Decarbonisation Virtual Event on demand here.

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