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Tanni Grey-Thompson turns up heat on government over £1bn "leisure hub" investment

The government "needs to show more leadership" and work with the physical activity sector if it wants to save the National Health Service (NHS).

That was the message from former Paralympic champion and current ukactive chair Tanni Grey-Thompson, speaking at the Local Government Association Annual Conference in Birmingham yesterday (4 July).

"The challenges around physical activity are really serious," she said. "We have a generation of young people who are more likely to die before their parents, obesity rates for young people are on the rise, we've got an ageing population and the NHS is in a really challenging position.

"If we don't do something to get the nation active, there will be really serious consequences."

Grey-Thompson renewed her call for a £1bn regeneration scheme to "save the NHS" by transforming the UK’s ageing fleet of leisure centres into a new preventative frontline.

She urged the government to leverage cross-sector funding to replace 1970s-era leisure centres with community wellness hubs.

The hubs would combine health clubs, swimming pools and sports halls with GP drop-in centres, libraries and police services, to create one-stop-shops for public services.

Sport England estimates that building 1,000 wellness hubs over the next 10 years could lead to "net savings of up to £500m per year" in operating costs by replacing 2,000 leisure centres currently in need of renewal.

The plans would lead to the closure of 1,000 leisure centres.

Using funding body Sport England’s strategic investment model for the hubs would – according to ukactive – allow the leveraging of £1bn of private sector funding for every £100m of public money invested.

Grey-Thompson tabled the plans last year, but said she's frustrated by the lack of progress being made in Parliament to push the scheme forward.

"Sitting in the Lords I feel this huge sense of frustration – it doesn't feel as though anything is happening," she said.

"We already have the £1bn on the table – we just need to get the government to step up and to take it seriously."

During her speech, which was part of a panel discussion, Grey-Thompson also called on culture secretary Matt Hancock to take immediate action.

"Matt Hancock and the Treasury have to do something now, before the summer recess, to make this happen," she said.

"Because if we don't think smart about the money we have, we're actually going to run out of money. We have to think much more strategically about this.

"The government needs to show more leadership – it's very stagnated at the moment.

"We've got a coalition of local government, leisure operators and the construction sector behind the leisure hub plans and I don't know what the government is waiting for. I'm hugely frustrated by the lack of progress."

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