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Olympic heroes criticise council's planned hike in sports fees
Olympic stars have attacked plans to increase the cost of playing sport in Brighton and Hove.
Just months after the flame was extinguished at the London 2012 Games, Brighton and Hove City Council has revealed a proposal to introduce inflation-busting charges for some activities at its leisure centres.
The local authority claims hikes are needed so it can offer 40% discounts to those on benefits, which it believes will increase participation among the less wealthy.
But others, including heroes of London 2012, have criticised the move for passing the buck onto regular users.
Mark Hawkins, who was star of the Team GB Handball side, said: “It’s really, really disappointing – especially after the year we have had.
“Councils should be removing barriers to participation – not creating them.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe with handball and I think we could learn a lot from how they do things.
“In Denmark, participation is the key. Sports centres charge the absolute minimum in an effort to get the whole community involved.
“It’s really frustrating. I get the feeling that too many people are trying to make money off the back of the Olympic legacy. It’s selfish really.”
Brighton-born Paralympian Ben Quilter, who picked up a bronze medal for judo last summer, said: “Given the state of public health I think we should be doing everything possible to get people active.
“The public reaction to both the Olympic and Paralympic Games was incredible and it would be a shame to see that momentum disappear.
“I just hope it doesn’t have any effect.”
The proposed hikes come as the city council carries out its annual review of charges at its leisure centres and swimming pools, which are run by Freedom Leisure.
It will mean those on a wide range of benefits, including jobseekers allowance, employment and support allowance child tax credit and pension credit, can get 40% off swimming, badminton, table tennis and gym membership.
But the bill will have to be paid by other customers who regularly do sports, such as outside football, squash and swimming.
Other prices, such as badminton court hire and indoor football, will only increase by the rate of inflation, which is currently 3%.
If approved by the cross-party economic development and culture committee on Thursday, the charges and the card will be introduced in April.
Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the council’s economic development and culture committee, said: “Building on the Olympic legacy we want to increase participation in sports and physical activity and that is why we are introducing the card.
“The card is particularly designed to encourage those on low incomes to use the sports facilities and offers a significant discount for those who need it most. Some fees are increasing to help pay for the card. However, we are able to do this and still keep our prices cheaper than – or similar to – the regional average prices for the same sports activities.
“So our sports facilities are still offering incredibly good value for money and we are encouraging those who can afford it least to take part.”
Conservative councillor Tony Janio said: “Everybody is entitled to a life and encouraging more people take up sport may help improve people’s minds and motivate them.
“But if the council wants to do this it should find the money from elsewhere. It’s not fair to take this money from other users. It’s just plain daft.”
Labour councillor Warren Morgan said: “Anything which helps people on lower incomes at a time of cuts is to be welcomed.
However, we need more detail on when the card will be introduced and then whether the take-up of the card is widespread.
“The proposed big increase in fees may have a detrimental effect on participation in sport in the city at a time when we are trying to build on the legacy of the Olympics.”
The prices at Hollingbury Golf Course could also increase by up to 6%. This would put the cost of a seven-day season ticket at £620, although junior season tickets would be reduced to £95.
The local authority said this is to reflect the recent course improvements.