THE former vice-provost of East Lothian has become embroiled in a dispute with a leisure centre over the use of its hydrotherapy pool, even staging a sit-in protest at the centre on Tuesday against “elderly discrimination”.

David Costello, 79, of Prestonpans, has held a full membership at the Mercat Gait Sports Centre on the town’s Preston Road for years but says he has watched his friends – who also pay memberships – be turned away from its hydrotherapy pool due to where they live.

He told the Courier: “Seven years ago, myself and others took out full memberships at the pool.

“We are a group of men and women and we like to use the hydrotherapy pool and regularly attend the centre around five days a week for around half an hour to an hour.

“Over the pandemic, the centre was shut and, now that it has opened, we have been told we cannot use the pool as we had done previously.

“They have come up with the fact that we have to have a Prestonpans address to access the pool.

“The new rules are you must be aged 67-plus with a Prestonpans address.”

'We benefit greatly from the pool'

Mr Costello arrived at the centre on Tuesday at 8am, as he regularly does, and attempted to enter the pool.

He says he was told by staff that the people with him – two from Longniddry and one from Wallyford – would not be granted access due to their postcodes.

He said: “I could have got in but I refused. We are a group of elderly people and we benefit greatly from the pool.

“At 8am, there is no one using it, its heated up with bubbles but no one is in it.”

Mr Costello, a retired councillor who was formerly chair of planning at Lothian Regional Council, and ex-chair of housing and social work in East Lothian, and served as vice provost for some time, claims that the sports centre’s policy is “disgraceful” and the issue is “discrimination of the worst kind”.

He has spoken to management but says the issue is ongoing.

'It is cruel'

Mr Costello said: “I was part of the group that got the Mercat built.

“It is cruel to let old folk sit by when no one is in the pool.

“We paid our memberships through Covid when it shut down.”

Mr Costello remained in the building from 8am until 2.30pm on Tuesday to stand up for his friends and is hoping to follow up with meetings with council officials later this week.

A fitness membership at the centre costs £35.50 per month for an adult and £24 per month for a concession.

Included in the membership is access to seven Bodyworks Gyms, one free weights performance gym, five swimming pools, one leisure pool, more than 300 fitness classes a week, professional coaches, access to lockers, showers and changing rooms, and access to cafe and vending facilities across all seven East Lothian sports centres.

The sports centres are: Aubigny Sports Centre (Haddington), Dunbar Leisure Pool, Loch Centre (Tranent), Meadowmill Sports Centre (near Tranent), Musselburgh Sports Centre and North Berwick Sports Centre, as well as the Mercat Gait.

'Trying to find a resolution'

According to the Mercat Gait Centre website, the hydrotherapy pool should be privately booked, adding: “Customers may choose to book at their convenience, provided there is availability, or sign an extended let contract for guaranteed, long-term access.

“Each appointment includes 30 minutes total for preparation, and 30 minutes in the water. Excepting situations that arise due to our error, there are no circumstances in which customers will receive any additional time in the water.”

The standard cost for each appointment is £30, with a maximum occupancy for 10 people ­– the cost is for the session, rather than per person.

Mercat Gait Sports Centre is operated by independent technical services company FES, as opposed to enjoyleisure, which is responsible for the other six sports centres.

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “The council is aware of a situation and is engaging with relevant stakeholders, including the Mercat Gait, to try and find a resolution.”

The Courier has contacted FES for comment.