Nine Wigan football fields may be sold off in sports shake-up

Nine pitches could be sold off
Nine pitches could be sold off
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Nine football pitches owned by the council or borough’s leisure organisation could be sold off in a sports provision shake-up, a report has said.

The Wigan Borough Playing Pitch Strategy and Action Plan, drawn up for the town hall late last year, by consultancy firm Knight, Kavanagh and Page, identifies a number of facilities owned by the public sector which are of low value.

As long as alternative provision is made to compensate elsewhere in the borough the local authority could consider selling these off for housing or other development or turning them into community open land, the report suggests.

The full list is not known but City Road Playing Fields, Kingsdown Road Playing Field in Abram, Thomas Street Recreation Ground in Hindley Green and Watsons Field are named in the report.

The review also outlines a number of sports facing severe facility shortcomings, including both rugby union and rugby league and hockey.

The council has stressed that no pitches are currently under threat and that the strategy for sport is constantly being revised.

However, elected representatives chose to focus on the positives of the report, saying it was a document intended to be helpful for sports clubs looking to improve their situation.

Coun Carl Sweeney, Wigan Council’s cabinet member for resources and reform, said: “To support Wigan Council’s Deal for the Future and increase opportunities for sports participation, we want to enable a high quality and sustainable network of sports pitches and outdoor leisure facilities.

“We have worked successfully with Sport England and a range of sport national governing bodies to assess playing pitch provision and develop a plan for improvement.

“It is a very comprehensive piece of work which will be vital for all sporting clubs to use if they bid to their respective governing body for investment in their playing pitch provision.

“As a borough we now have a much better understanding of our facilities from pitch type, usage and condition to understanding the supply and demand of playing pitches.”

The consultants deem the nine football sites to be of less importance as they have just a single pitch with no other provision.

Two other sites in the borough, King George V Playing Fields and Southlands Avenue Playing Fields, could fit the same criteria but are protected.

The consultants clearly suggest that a better provision of sports facilities would be to create larger hubs with multiple pitches, including grass and artificial surfaces, which can allow for training, matches and activities to get those previously uninterested in football active.

In the recommendations the report says the council should aim for the: “Existing quantity of football pitches to be protected, except for where low value/single pitch sites are considered suitable and feasible to be lost for development on the condition that re-provision of playing field land elsewhere represents a preferable and greater benefit to sport.”

However, the report also identifies a shortfall in the availability of sites and says that more work needs to be done to get poor-quality pitches up to scratch and to ensure that sites are running at full capacity to prevent shortages.

The problem is particularly acute for 3G pitches, where the report finds the seven currently existing in the borough are five short of the total required.

The report says the council should: “Explore opportunities to create multi-pitch (potentially multi-sport) hub sites where 3G provision is able to support grass pitches as a broader, sustainable, all-in-one community offer.”

The exhaustive report, which runs to more than 120 pages, also look at whether Wiganers wanting to practice an array of sports are well provided for.

The consultants concluded the number of cricket pitches is on the whole satisfactory, although some junior teams’ facilities are overplayed and there are no spare pitches at peak weekend times when most games take place..

Enthusiasts for the two oval-ball codes, though, are less happily off, with a shortage of both rugby union and rugby league pitches.

The 13-a-side game needs particular investment, with 43 per cent of all fields for rugby league rated as poor quality and 10 sites being overplayed.

Touch rugby also needs more support as the Wigan Warriors club’s team does not have a properly marked-out pitch, having previously played at Standish.

Hockey also requires investment with not enough venues and problems over the existing facilities.

The report says Standish Community High School needs to retain its hockey pitch as there are question marks over the future of the sport at The Deanery High School and Westleigh High School’s facility is too small for matches.

Finally the consultants looked at American football, saying provision for this was adequate.

The report goes on to make three strategic recommendations, saying playing fields need to be protected through planning policy, facilities at schools need to be used as much as possible and high-quality clubs looking to expand and develop need tenancies and access arranged through partnership agreements.

There are also recommendations for how landowners can ensure they have high-quality sports facilities and recommendations for developing new sites for recreation, including putting more pitches at existing venues and suggesting schools no longer needing their assets could have them transferred to commnunity organisations.

Wigan Council worked for more than a year on the strategy, which has been praised by Sport England.