The quality of several Central Lancashire sports pitches needs to be improved – and the overall number of them increased – to meet the demand for playing surfaces in the area.
That is the finding of a report for Preston, Chorley and South Ribble councils, which concluded that there is a particular shortfall in artificial 3G pitches – with seven more of the synthetic surfaces being needed across the three authorities.
Football, cricket and bowls are highlighted as sports whose players need more space to enjoy their games.
The “playing pitch strategy”, which has been developed as part of the report, lays out a vision for facilities which “increase participation, help tackle health issues and provide accessible, inclusive activities”.
The document suggests that investment should be prioritised across key sites with large catchment areas.
While it acknowledges the importance of smaller, “locally significant” venues like recreation grounds, the report recommends that councils consider “rationalising” the cash spent on such facilities and focus instead on sites which can accommodate multiple clubs and sports.
The local democracy reporting service understands that each council will continue to produce its own playing pitch action plan based on participation rates for particular sports and consultation with residents.
Newly-merged Lancashire Sunday league side Tanterton and Springfield’s FC welcomed the call for pitch improvements.
While the club is now playing at a “fantastic” facility at the University of Central Lancashire, club secretary Carl Longshaw said their previous pitch had caused them no end of problems.
“We had to move from our home on the village green in Tanterton, because the condition was just terrible,” Carl recalls.
“The pitch didn’t drain properly – so we would get our first few games in and then it would be unplayable.
“Preston City Council did the best job possible under massive budgetary constraints, but we had to get a private contractor to come in and cut the pitch, at huge expense to the club – because the council could only afford to do it once every three weeks.
“Grass roots football at an adult level is crumbling pretty fast, because good playing surfaces are few and far between.
“Most decent facilities are now taken over by large clubs with junior teams at all age levels – great for the kids’ game, but not good for the adult game.”
The report recommends that councils adopt a plan to protect the facilities which they already have, enhance any which need upgrading and add to the supply of pitches were shortfalls are found. It also raises the possibility of converting some of Central Lancashire’s sand surfaces to 3G grounds.
However, Eamonn McNamara, who recently retired as chairman of the Lancashire Sunday Football League said that artificial surfaces split opinion – and stressed the improvements which he has seen during his 50-year association with the grassroots game.
“Back then, anybody who felt like forming a team could do so and that meant most of them ended up playing on council pitches,” Eamonn explains.
“Nowadays, we have more exacting standards and the majority of youth teams have their own grounds and many of the adult teams do, too.
“We can always say we’d like extras – floodlights, for instance – but really we just need somewhere to get changed and somewhere to play – and we’ve got that.
“Councils have limited amounts of money and if it was a choice between [upgrading] playing surfaces and something for the elderly or children, then we would quite rightly come last.
“The league itself is a fan of 3G pitches, because games don’t get called off in bad weather. In fact, the only thing we have an issue with is the weather – and even councils can’t control that,” Eamonn jokes.
According to the consultancy report, one of the most significant gaps in playing pitch provision is in grass pitches for youth 11v11 football sides. It also found that there are sufficient playing surfaces for rugby and hockey, although the quality of the latter needs improving.
Demand for non pitch-based sports is currently being met.
The playing pitch strategy was presented at the latest meeting of the Central Lancashire Joint Advisory Committee which heard from one member who was less worried about conditions on the pitch than about what he has to endure before kick-off and after the final whistle.
“I’ve played at some places where it’s more hygienic to get changed in the car,” said Preston City councillor John Potter.
“It’s also a real concern for parents that while their children might be playing on great pitches, the changing facilities can be rubbish.”
Councils were urged to continue making the most of planning agreements with developers to access funding for public sports pitches.
Reflecting on the report’s recommendations, one of its co-authors, Claire Fallon – principal consultant at Knight Kavanagh and Page – told representatives of Central Lancashire’s three district councils: “This is where the hard work begins.”
Responding to the comments by Tanterton FC about the condition of their former pitch, a spokesman for Preston City Council said: “The council’s Parks team has had regular communications with Tanterton FC in relation to pitch maintenance. A programme of requirements was identified and are now being implemented, such as grasscutting and verti draining to improve the pitch.
“In the meantime, the club made the decision to join with another club – Springfields – due to sustainability reasons and now the council is working with Cadley FC and the league to implement the maintenance programme on the pitch which will address the drainage issues.”
The report finds: issues with the quality of football pitches at Ashton Park and Sherwood Park; the need for two more 3G pitches; three cricket pitches overplayed; high demand for bowls; and he BMX track at Fishwick Recreation Ground being of poor quality.
Preston City Council cabinet member for environment, Coun Robert Boswell, said: “The Central Lancashire Playing Pitch Strategy (PPS) provides a true picture of the current levels and quality of outdoor recreational provision within each borough. The strategy takes into account current supply and future demand, based on housing growth.
“The PPS is a key document for Sport England and national governing bodies of sport, as it provides recommendations for sport-specific investment at a grassroots level. The council is now working closely with these key stakeholders and other funding bodies to see how and where investment should be targeted to ensure that a maximum return on investment is achieved and value for money is demonstrated.
“The key findings highlight some short, medium and long-term objectives which will help more people, to be more active in more places, while having the best experience.”
The report highlights: quality issues with the football pitches at several private facilities; the need for one new 3G pitch; several cricket grounds overplayed; Moss Side Recreation Ground overplayed by hosting both codes of rugby.
South Ribble Council cabinet member for finance, Coun Matthew Tomlinson, said: “Creating new and improving existing green spaces across the borough is a key priority for us and we’re committed to improving health and wellbeing across South Ribble and to work with our community to make access to activities easier for all.
“We recently conducted a borough wide consultation to gather residents views on their green spaces – the largest ever conducted by the council – with over 900 people involved.
“An extensive “Green Links” improvement programme has recently been approved following the consultation feedback. This programme will create new Green Links in the borough in the shape of new cycle or pedestrian routes which will connect existing parks and open spaces together. It will also commission three new play areas and provide improvements to existing parks and will introduce a series of leisure projects which will see new playing fields created across the borough.”
The report notes: quality issues with the football pitches at Jim Fowlers Memorial Ground, Twin Lakes (Croston), King George V Field and Sandy Lane; a shortfall of four 3G pitches; quality issues at two hockey pitches.
Council leader Alistair Bradley, said: “We’re committed to providing high quality open spaces, sports and recreation facilities for the residents of the borough to enjoy and promote good health and wellbeing.
“During the past five years, we have made significant improvements in some of our facilities across the borough including Coronation Recreation Ground, Harper’s Lane recreation Ground, Rangletts Recreation ground and Jubilee Recreation Ground. Some of these spaces are now being used more proactively by the community to host activities to improve the wellbeing of local people and they are proving really popular.
“We are currently working on a number of exciting projects which include Westway Sports Campus, Astley Park lighting scheme, pitch improvement facilities for King George V site in Adlington and an archery facility for Chorley Bowman, plus a number of other play schemes and a pump track in Clayton-le-woods.
“In terms of the specific findings for Chorley in this latest evidence, a number of these are being addressed in projects which are currently underway (including Westway Sports Campus which will provide an artificial grass pitch with future plan for athletics provision, Twin Lakes Croston and King George V) and we are now considering the rest of the findings and a draft Chorley Open Space and Sports Recreation Strategy and Action Plan will be published for public consultation later in 2019.”
‘Vandalism is as big a problem as availability’
When Tanterton FC opted to swap its village green home for a sports centre pitch, it was not just long grass and waterlogging which drove the club away.
“Probably the most decisive factor was anti-social behaviour,” club secretary Carl Longshaw remembers.
“We had break-ins to our compound where the equipment was housed, damage to the pitch caused by motorbikes and a wheelie bin set alight on the centre spot. The situation became impossible.”
Even teams arriving to enjoy a game of crown green bowls have found their playing surfaces ruined.
“We’ve had kids playing football and riding bikes across where we play,” says Alan Catterall, chairman of Preston and District Amateur Bowling League.
“And bowls needs a well-manicured surface.”
‘Just not cricket without a decent wicket’
The report into Central Lancashire’s sports pitches found shortfalls in playing space for cricket across all three council areas, with several sites being “overplayed”.
Penwortham Cricket Club has boasted its own ground for more than a hundred years – but with four teams, they still have to search elsewhere for a place to play.
“Our fourth team played at Charnock Richard for a time, which was quite a long way from home,” says Andrew Bailey, club secretary and fourth team captain.
“Now we travel to the outskirts of Chorley – and any club which has three or four teams will have similar difficulties.
“If more schools played the game, we could perhaps get access to their pitches – but I’m only aware of Hutton Grammar, which hosts our third team.
“It’s not like football where you can get away with cutting the grass short, putting up some posts and playing a game.
“With cricket, you need a square and the wicket has to be properly prepared and rolled out – and that’s a skill in itself.”
Bowling green blues
There are more people wanting to play bowls in Preston than there are places for them to have a match, according to a report into the availability of sports pitches.
But for the chairman of Preston and District Amateur Bowling League, the issue facing lovers of the game is quality as much as quantity.
“Many of the greens are in private hands at places like social clubs and pubs – and they just don’t have the staff to maintain them properly,” Alan Catterall explains.
“Nobody is willing to build a green, because they don’t get an instant return on their investment.
“We’d like to see more facilities like floodlights and toilets.”
“It might also encourage players who wanted a game in a non-competitive manner.”