The trials and tribulations of Local Authority playing field provision
Quality playing fields do exist, but rarely in the public sector.
Sport England advise that the ideal budget to maintain a pitch is £12,000 a year. With the minimum being £6,000. In reality, local authorities are lucky if they are able to allocate £2,000 – £3,000 to the task.
In Sheffield, on the rare occasion money is available to provide a good pitch, word soon get around and the lovely grass gets hammered with over use; everybody and their granny wants a piece. Sports I never new existed find their way for training an informal matches. If this isn’t enough, the pitches are wide open to abuse from cars, motor cycles, dog mess, and Civil War.
“Alan, the Civil War Enactment Society want to set up camp on your new pitch.”
“What! Are you winding me up?”
“No, they want to camp around the perimeter and, for safety, keep the gun powder in the middle. And, in this area – points to map – they want to keep the horses.”
Leaving out the swearing which followed, this resulted in old Ernest and myself camping out on site to repel the Cavaliers and Round Heads.
Apart for a man with a large death dog, or the development of an automatic lazer deterrent, the only way to protect pitches is a big fence. But 4m high perimeter fencing is costly, and there is strong public opposition to contend with.
Is there a solution? No. At least not one that maintains the system we’ve had for over 100 years. In the background of austerity and massive public service cuts, the simple answer is to stop: no maintenance; no grass cutting; no allocations. Did you know, allocating and organising fixtures requires a fill time officer.
The alternative, which we are currently doing in Sheffield as a pilot with the FA, is to build a network of 3g (rubber crumb) hubs and move the majority of play to these. The next step, which we haven’t got near to yet, is to provide a number of secure complexes, similar to Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate in York, and move all play to these.
The only obvious source of funding to build these complexes is to sell parts off traditional playing fields for housing. With revenue to sustain coming from a combination of commercial ventures and users having to pay more to play. It will take be a brave authority and leadership to follow this path. Until then, we are in the mud.
I’ll get my lazer. Are you coming Ernest?