Council hits back at FA’s pitch claims

Waterlogged pitches off Scot Lane, Wigan
Waterlogged pitches off Scot Lane, Wigan

WIGAN Council has defended the state of its public football pitches following criticism from the Football Association, which claims that pitches owned by local authorities are in an ‘abhorrent state’

Pitches are not only waterlogged after heavy rain but are also suffering from overuse in many cases, the FA says.

Wigan Council and Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust, which are in charge of the borough’s football pitches, say they are doing all they can but given severe cuts to their budget coupled with one of the wettest winters on record, there is little they can do.

A spokesman for Wigan Council and WLCT said: “We are currently experiencing one of the wettest winters on record and the appalling bad weather has made many pitches unplayable in recent weeks.

“In terms of investment, both Wigan Council and WLCT made a significant contribution and commitment to improving pitches across the borough before the government’s austerity measures impacted in 2010, with more than £1m invested in improving a third of the borough’s pitches.

“The council has to cut spending by £107.8m by the end of 2016/17, a total reduction of more than 30 per cent of its budget – one of the largest cuts faced by any local authority in the country. Savings totalling £64.8m have already been made but the council must cut another £15m this year to meet its targets.

“To put this particular challenge into context, the cost of improving pitch drainage can be as high as £50,000 per pitch, with the improvements lasting, on average, just 10 years. There are 106 pitches across the borough so a complete improvement plan would require £5.3m to be spent each decade.

“However, we understand the importance of sporting facilities in both contributing to the health and wellbeing of the borough’s residents.

“We have kept increases in fees and charges for pitches to the minimum we can. This year, charges rose by only £8 per year for junior clubs (to £160) and £60 a year for adult clubs (to £694).

“We are continuing to work together to identify new ways to ensure pitches are improved in these difficult financial times and are working with football and rugby clubs to support them to take on the management of some pitches and apply for grants to improve them.”

However, the FA says there needs to be a shift towards synthetic pitches.

Pete Ackerley, the FA’s senior national game development manager, said: “There has to be a move to sustainable artificial pitches. The average grass pitch can hold two to three games a week - artificial pitches can host up to 60 teams training and matches.”

The Local Government Association suggested the FA could pay for pitches.