South Ribble closer to getting new state-of-the-art football pitches

Football clubs across South Ribble are hoping that a near-£1m funding bid to create two new full-size playing pitches in the borough will find the back of the net.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 12:30 pm

If the submission is successful, the cash – from the Football Foundation charity – will be used to help develop the floodlit 3G facilities in the grounds of Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre.

In a transfer deadline day-style twist, the proposal secured planning permission just 24 hours before the financial application had to be lodged.

The pitches – able to be further subdivided into four playing areas – would be installed on land currently used for general recreation, but which is rarely in a suitable condition to host organised sport.

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The grassed area at the Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre is good enough for an informal kickabout - but not usually much else (image: Neil Cross)

South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee heard that that problem was shared even by some of the official grass pitches in the district.

“Even before the pandemic, many of the games…had to be postponed due to ground conditions – leading to fixture congestion and disappointed players,” explained the authority’s deputy leader, Mick Titherington.

“This project, with the provision of quality facilities for training and matchplay, will have a beneficial impact for our local clubs.”

He added that demand for playing pitches in the district was even higher than suggested in a 2019 report into facilities across Central Lancashire – which concluded there was a shortfall in the borough of the two 3G surfaces now being proposed.

While there is some availability of adult pitches, those for youth and mini-mixed teams – which make up four in five of the 244 teams playing across South Ribble – are either full or over-subscribed.

There are currently five artificial pitches in the borough – but only two are available for use at the weekend.

Committee member James Flannery said a successful bid would be a post-Covid good news story.

“As someone who coaches junior football teams in South Ribble and has to travel over to Preston to book pitches, this is much-needed and welcome,” he said.

The plans also include a new pavilion building – featuring kitchen facilities and a room for classes like yoga – as well as a 77-space extension to the leisure centre’s car park. The leisure centre itself would be unaffected by the development, while a skatepark on the site would be slightly remodelled.

The outcome of the funding bid will be known in April, part of a total £3.2m plan for the Bamber Bridge site approved by South Ribble’s cabinet back in October.

It is hoped that work could start over the summer if the Football Foundation cash – £950,000 – comes the borough’s way. On that timetable, the pitches should be completed just before Christmas and the pavilion shortly afterwards.

The committee heard that the plan is to deliver inclusive football activities at the site for those with disabilities and mental health problems, as well as programmes for young people at risk of anti-social behaviour or living in hardship.

A partner club arrangement has been formed with the Lostock Hall, Walton le Dale and Bamber Bridge United junior football clubs.

Councillors unanimously approved by the plans – although an air quality assessment will have to be carried out and submitted for separate approval before any works begin on the site, which sits in the shadow of the M6.