A TRUST that runs council-owned leisure centres across the New Forest is set to receive a further £270,000 of public money - taking the total to £1.5m.

Freedom Leisure took control of sites at Applemore, Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood, and Totton in 2021, has been hit by soaring energy bills and other costs.

Now, the not-for-profit organisation is to receive extra financial aid from the district council on top of a £1.23m management fee.

Bournemouth Echo: Applemore is one of five health and leisure centres run by Freedom LeisureApplemore is one of five health and leisure centres run by Freedom Leisure (Image: Newsquest.)

It comes amid growing concern over the future leisure facilities in towns and cities across the UK.

A coalition of almost 200 sports bodies, health organisations and top athletes has warned Rishi Sunak that the energy crisis could prove to be the "final straw" for many gyms, pools and clubs.

READ MORE: Freedom Leisure to run five health and leisure centres in the New Forest

The government is reducing its energy support scheme from April, with the leisure sector set to lose out.

The coalition is forecasting a raft of cuts and closures at pools, gyms and leisure centres, describing them as vital but energy-intensive services.

Figures compiled by UK Active show that in the past year 29 venues have closed either temporarily or permanently because of rising energy prices.

Bournemouth Echo: Ringwood Health and Leisure Centre is also run by Freedom LeisureRingwood Health and Leisure Centre is also run by Freedom Leisure (Image: Newsquest.)

Last November Freedom Leisure was forced to close saunas and steam rooms at leisure centres in the Forest to combat rising costs. It has since faced criticism for lowering the temperature of pools.

The issue was debated at a meeting of the council's ruling cabinet.

Members heard that leisure centres across the district had been hit by spiralling energy bills, the cost of living crisis, and a slower-than-anticipated recovery from the pandemic.

Cllr Malcolm Wade is leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the Tory-run authority.

He said: "Taking into account the service to the public is worse than when we ran it, and it’s costing more money, is the administration considering bringing it back in-house?"

READ MORE: Freedom Leisure shuts saunas and steam rooms at leisure centres to combat escalating costs

Cllr Geoff Blunden, cabinet member for partnering and wellbeing, accepted there had been "significant challenges" but did not accept the service was worse.

Commenting on the national situation a government spokesman said: "We know our grassroots sports facilities are contending with increases in running costs.

"We provided an £18bn package of support for organisations including clubs, pools, leisure centres, schools, charities and businesses through the winter."

The spokesman said the government also made £1bn available to ensure the survival of the sports and leisure sectors during the pandemic.