FREE swimming for young children at public pools in the New Forest will end next year.
From January youngsters aged between three and seven years old will be charged £1 for a dip, under a new set of fees agreed for the district council’s leisure services.
The extra costs will affect the five council-run swimming pools at sports centres in New Milton, Lymington, Ringwood, Applemore and Totton.
The new charges were signed off by Cllr Mark Steele, NFDC’s Conservative cabinet member for leisure and wellbeing.
A council report said the free swimming for under-eights was a “legacy” of an initiative in the 1990s and, with rising demand at the pools, was now benefiting “visitors more than residents”.
An NFDC spokesperson said: “The £1 charge being introduced will mainly affect very occasional swimmers or holidaymakers to the district.
“We estimate the number of £1 swims will be around 3,000 to 4,000 per year, which is under 10% of the total number of children’s swims.”
Swimming will stay free for under-threes and the 4,500 youth members of the New Forest Swim Academy.
All other swim prices will be frozen except peak-hire of the pool halls which will rise £5 to £95 an hour.
Despite a “challenging” year, leisure centre membership and booking fees will almost entirely stay the same, said the report.
It explained: “The market has changed in the last five years with the rise in popularity of the low-cost gym, and more recently the ‘boutique’ market.”
That has resulted in many facilities cutting prices, leaving NFDC’s leisure membership of £47 above the £40 charged by most private competitors in the region.
However, the “broader package” offered by NFDC’s facilities meant prices would be not be cut in 2020, it concluded.
As reported in the A&T, NFDC is currently asking for bids from private organisations to manage its leisure centres. The move has been attacked by Liberal Democrat and Labour opponents as a form of “privatisation”, a claim rejected by the Conservative administration.