South Ribble gets set for major new sporting facility

Ambitious plans for a “regionally significant” sports village based in South Ribble are a step closer to getting off the drawing board after it was agreed to transfer a huge plot of land into public ownership.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 5:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th September 2021, 8:26 pm

South Ribble Borough Council’s cabinet has given the go-ahead to the authority taking on the seven-hectare Vernon Carus Sports Club site off Factory Lane in Penwortham.

The facility – which currently hosts sports including cricket, football, boxing and crown green bowling – would be gifted to the district by the constructor behind the proposed Penwortham Mills development nearby if that scheme – for 330 homes, which are subject to separate planning permission – gets the green light.

That would then trigger plans to transform and expand the existing sporting facilities in the area, with the sports club land being transferred to the council – along with £500,000 for the long-term upkeep of the Lake Wood Reservoir which is part of the plot. The authority would also receive £150,000 for refurbishment of the existing sports club building and changing facilities.

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The cricket pitch and club house at the Vernon Carus facility

However, that would just be the first stage of a much bigger blueprint for the site, the outline of which has also now been approved in principle by cabinet members.

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Delivered in phases over several years, the wider sporting goal would include the creation of a new 3G pitch, two multi-use games areas and the refurbishment or rebuilding of the boxing club and the construction of a new bowls shelter.

The initial upgrade of the sports club and changing rooms would be designed to last until later-stage plans for a completely new sports pavilion, with an estimated price tag of almost £3m.

The sports club building at Vernon Carus would initially be refurbished - and potentially replaced with a new pavilion in years to come

Cabinet member for resources Matthew Tomlinson told the meeting at which the land transfer was approved that it provided “an opportunity for us to take ownership and control of a significant plot of leisure facilities”.

“It could be, I think, a regionally significant site – not just [one] for the borough,” he added.

The district council last year laid out its ambition to create more local leisure opportunities for residents.

Cllr Mick Titherington, who holds the health and wellbeing portfolio at the authority, said that the potential for the Vernon Carus site was “limitless” – and that the vision was for it to become a “centre of excellence” for sport.

Picnic spots and viewing points could be created overlooking Lake Wood Reservoir

The masterplan for the plot also includes options for a new BMX track and upgraded parking facilities. There is additional potential for a 4G pitch to be created on adjoining Cardinal Newman College land, subject to their agreement.

Meanwhile, new viewing points and picnic pots could be created overlooking the reservoir – as well as a storage area for equipment to be used for water sports.

Conservative opposition group leader Karen Walton welcomed the plans, but queried whether the funding offered by the developer for the maintenance of the reservoir would be sufficient.

The meeting heard that it was expected the maintenance costs would be covered for at least the next 25 years – with the estimated annual bill ranging from £7,000 to £20,00 depending on the type of redevelopment work undertaken on that part of the site. Existing reservoir maintenance works have already been completed prior to the transfer of ownership to the council.

Bowls facilities could be upgraded under the plans

“It’s an asset that we will have to look after because there are risks to owning a reservoir as well as potential benefits for leisure – we [will] own a significant body of water right in the middle of the borough, so we will have to look after it properly,” Cllr Tomlinson explained.

Labour council leader Paul Foster said that it would have been a “tragedy” if the future of the sporting facilities had been thrown into doubt.

“We see up and down the country, 99 percent of the time, private sector developers building on every piece of green land they can possibly get their mitts on and [areas] losing community assets,” said Cllr Foster, who added that clubs using the Vernon Carus site would be able to apply for grants that were not previously available to them when their facilities were on private land.

Jeremy Straker, chair of Penwortham Town Football Club, welcomed the proposed investment.

Speaking to the Post, he said: "There is a shortage of provision of grass football pitches in the area - and we could accommodate more teams if we had more facilities.

"It's easy to grow a football club, but the constraints are always [finding] volunteers and pitches," Mr. Straker added.

Football pitch at the Vernon Carus site

Cabinet members were told that there was also the potential to create a 4G pitch on adjoining land owned by Cardinal Newman College, subject to the college's agreement.

The council’s planning committee will make a decision on the Penwortham Mills housing proposals at a later date. That scheme also includes the proposed construction of a Lidl supermarket.

The Trafford Housing Trust acquired the site in 2019 and the project is set to be delivered by Lane End Developments Construction Ltd., which negotiated the land transfer and monetary payments to the council.

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