THE number of swimming sessions in the Dudley borough has plummeted by more than 5,000 since free swimming for the under 16s and over 60s was scrapped in July.

Figures reveal the total number of swims at the leisure centres in Dudley, Halesowen and Stourbridge was 44,683 in August compared with 49,751 in August 2009.

The number of swims at Halesowen Leisure Centre dipped by more than 3,500, from 10,300 to 6,521 - the biggest fall in the borough.

Dudley was down by 2,443 from 9,094 to 6,651, but Stourbridge’s Crystal Centre bucked the trend with a slight increase over the summer holidays from 30,357 to 31,511.

Cabinet member for environment and culture Councillor David Stanley said the free swims had been possible from a two year grant given by the previous Labour Government.

“The new Government stopped the funding six months early, so in effect we would have been in the same situation six months down the line anyway.

“When this was offered by the previous Government it was made very clear that we would not have money available to carry it on,” he said.

Cllr Stanley added: “It’s always a shame to see things go, but we had no control over it.

“It was a good increase but we still have thousands of swimmers who continue to visit our first class facilities.”