Pitch lease plan puzzler

The football pitches on Laithwaite Park, Newtown, which are being sold off

The football pitches on Laithwaite Park, Newtown, which are being sold off

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MORE than 80 per cent of the sports pitch leases the council have put up for grabs are still going begging.

Local authority chiefs confirmed today that less than a fifth of the municipal football and rugby facilities offered to sports clubs or individual teams to take over maintenance and ground-keeping responsibilities have attracted expressions of interest.

The privatisation programme – a cash-saving move by town hall bosses in response to Government cuts – was confirmed by the Evening Post in February and the deadline for official approaches has now closed.

But the council insisted today that it is pleased with the response. Of the 115 pitches across the borough that are available for use by sports clubs, 45 are now to be retained and not available for long term lease. That leaves 70 potentially available for long term lease subject to title investigations and restrictive covenants.

Three expressions of interest have been received for three sites which are currently marked out with nine pitches, or 13 per cent of the available pitches.

Director of leisure Penny McGinty said: “We are close to announcing the first results of the applications from clubs to lease pitches. We’re pleased with the response we received but this is an on-going process that will continue. We’d be happy to hear from other clubs who wish to take on a lease in the future.”

To avoid a conflict of interest if several community groups are interested in the same site, clubs had been encouraged to submit a joint expressions of interest. To succeed, each has had to show how they meet the council’s strategic objectives while satisfying a new criteria designed to assess the quality of the club, its long-term development objectives and sustainability.

Council director of economy Steve Normington said that the borough had a strong local sporting infrastructure of clubs which currently used many of its facilities. And by allowing clubs to lease and run the facilities themselves, it would both strengthen the club system and encourage them to “engage within the community and get people to become more active.”

Pitches retained in Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust care and maintenance contracts due to their strategic location and condition include Laithwaite Park, Newtown, Leyland Park, Hindley, and Parson’s Meadow, Worsley Mesnes.