Southwark’s Labour council has come under fire for new charges that could add up to £110 a year for each resident using the borough’s parks or open spaces for an outdoor gym or exercise class.
Last year the Council introduced charges for private group exercise or personal trainer licences. Residents could previously use any of the borough’s parks or open spaces for free. Many people prefer outdoor exercise to indoor shared gyms.
From April though the Labour council wants to introduce new licence fees for residents using Southwark’s parks and open spaces for either personal or group fitness sessions. These costs are generally passed on to residents as part of their enrolment or class fee.
The Council has set itself an income target of at least £235,000 each year from the charges. For group exercise classes, the new fee will range between £680 and £4,500 each year per group and for personal trainers it will be £280-£480 annually.
Southwark Liberal Democrats have accused ruling Labour councillors of hypocrisy after the party pledged to bring in free gym sessions for all in its 2014 election manifesto – a pledge which has still not been implemented fully. Instead Labour councillors have introduced a pilot scheme for under-18s and over-60s.
Southwark Liberal Democrat Leisure Spokesperson, Councillor Lisa Rajan, said:
“Liberal Democrats are fighting residents’ corner for better health services in Southwark and exercise is a key way of keeping fit and improving your physical and mental health.
“It is outrageous that the Labour council is charging to exercise in the park. Southwark has some of the worst obesity and cardiovascular problems in the UK so we shouldn’t penalise people who want to exercise.
“This is a tax on outdoor exercise and staying fit. What new costs are involved for the council in allowing these classes and why does it need to charge more each year? Will the parks staff now be expected to watch out 24/7 for people exercising so they can be charged?
“These new charges mean an extra charge of up to £110 per person each year on top of their class fee. This looks like nothing more than a grubby cash grab by the Council.”