CHARGES to use leisure centres in Mid Devon are set to increase from April by three per cent for casual users and two per cent for existing members.
However, gym and pool users in the district have been warned they could face larger increases in charges in 12 months' time when the council which operates the centres says it will have to take a "harder nosed" approach to generating income from the leisure sector.
Mid Devon District Council, which runs the Exe Valley, Lords Meadow and Culm Valley leisure centres, says it still has some of the most affordable charges for use of leisure facilities in the Westcountry.
For example, the cost of a junior swim in Mid Devon is currently £2, the third lowest among nine other local leisure competitors, with only Exeter University and Torridge District Council-owned leisure facilities offer youngsters a swim for less than £2.
A single adult swim in Mid Devon currently costs £3.75, just above the average for the nine providers of £3.49 but significantly cheaper than the £4.50 charged in East Devon and the £4 fee in Teignbridge.
Gym sessions in Mid Devon currently cost £5.60, the fourth highest of the local-authority competitors behind Exeter and West Devon, but still cheaper than the private sector offering from Padbrook Park in Cullompton (£5.75), the council says.
At a meeting of the council's cabinet last Thursday's, where the new charging structure was endorsed, members heard the change had the potential to generate a further £50,000 in income if the current level of customer activity is maintained. A freeze will also be introduced on loyalty memberships while monthly direct debit payers will see a two per cent increase in charges from April. The council hopes that by increasing pay and play charges they will tempt more customers to become monthly paying members.
Councillor Bob Deed, cabinet member for leisure services, said that while increases this year were moderate, the same might not be possible next year.
He said: "Given the proposed central government settlement for 2014-15, it is possible we will have to take a harder-nosed look at these figures in 12 months' time."
Councillor Clive Eginton said not all customers of the leisure centre lived in the district. He said: "I recently met a family in Crediton who lived some distance away but came to Lords Meadow because they thought it was better than their nearest leisure centre in Okehampton. They liked shopping in the town too and thought our facilities were far better value for money."
Cllr Deed said this recommendation was testament to the "friendly welcome of staff" at Lords Meadow as he accepted that the facilities at the centre in Okehampton were of a higher standard than those in Crediton at present. A proposed investment in an upgrade to the facilities at the centre was recently deferred following opposition from some of the sports clubs who could have been displaced by the scheme.