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Sports pitches and play areas

The conundrum over how sports pitches, pavilions and playgrounds should be managed in the future will continue to be debated this week by councillors at Bridgend County Borough Council.

With the local authority facing the need to make an overall budget saving of £35m by 2023 as a result of reduced funding from central government, it recently held a public consultation inviting views on how the outdoor facilities should be funded, as well as potential changes to grass cutting regimes.

Nearly 2,200 people had their say in the 12-week consultation, and the outcomes will be considered by the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 5 September before a final report is presented to Cabinet Members.

The council currently oversees 39 playing fields and 40 pavilions. Although sports clubs are charged for hiring the facilities, the fees do not go anywhere near covering the cost associated with providing and maintaining them. The council currently provides a subsidy of up to 80 per cent which isn’t going to be financially sustainable in the long-term.

The consultation revealed public support for more sports clubs and pavilion groups considering taking responsibility for self-managing the facilities they use. Forty three per cent of respondents were in favour of this idea, 28 per cent said no, 25 per cent were unsure, and four per cent didn’t answer the question.

In response to a separate question, 47 per cent felt that town and community councils should consider running such facilities, while 27 per cent were unsure, 23 per cent said no, and three per cent didn’t answer the question.

Last year, Bryncethin RFC became the first sports club to complete a ‘Community Asset Transfer’ (CAT) deal with Bridgend County Borough Council so that they could take over the ownership of their playing field and pavilion from the local authority.

As well as agreeing a 35-year lease, the rugby club also secured more than £500k funding from a variety of sources to completely transform the pavilion into a facility for the whole local community to treasure.

Since 2015, three other Community Asset Transfers have been completed. Leases are also currently being finalised for 13 more, business cases are being developed with council assistance for a further 26 transfers, while discussions are ongoing for another 25 transfers following informal expressions of interest.

While the consultation found that there was strong acceptance that some facilities could be managed by clubs that are in a position to do so, there was less appetite for increasing hire charges to cover costs. Survey respondents fed back that increased charges could really hurt smaller clubs and community groups who may have to fold as a result.

Concerns were also raised that the loss of sporting activity could have a knock-on effect by causing further health-related problems and anti-social behaviour.

On the subject of play areas, 71 per cent of respondents supported local town or community councils taking responsibility for operating some of the county borough’s 108 play areas that have fixed play equipment. Interestingly, discussions are already progressing at the instigation of Bridgend Town Council, Coity Higher and Laleston Community Councils for them to run some play areas.

The survey responses made it very clear how important play areas are to local families. An overwhelming 94 per cent of respondents said that play areas were either ‘valuable’ or ‘very valuable’, while 35 per cent stated that they use them weekly.

This consultation underlines the extremely difficult position we are in. Having affordable access to good quality sports pitches is essential for encouraging people of all ages to be more physically active and improve their long-term prospects of living a healthy life. Likewise, play areas are very well used by parents with young families. We fully recognise the value of these facilities on health and wellbeing, as well as the requirements of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Play Sufficiency Legislation, but we will need help in order to sustain them for future generations.

If we carry on as we are then facilities will close as we will have insufficient funding to maintain and manage them. Council services can no longer operate at previous levels so we’re keen to explore alternative models where local people and community organisations play a larger role. Rather than burying our heads in the sand we are proactively seeking solutions.

It has been already been proven that Community Asset Transfers can reinvigorate community assets so we are actively encouraging clubs who are interested to find out more about whether a transfer could offer a realistic option for them. As part of the Community Asset Transfer process we provide a range of advice and support which also includes financial support. I’d like to thank everyone who contributed their views to this consultation. There are no easy answers, but what is clear to me is that discussions must continue and we need to be as open as possible about the issues we face.

Councillor Richard Young, Bridgend County Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities

The outcomes of the consultation will be considered at a meeting of Bridgend County Borough Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 5 September. Residents are welcome to attend the meeting in person, or follow it online via a webcast.

For general enquiries, please contact Bridgend County Borough Council's customer contact centre:

Telephone: 01656 643643
Opening hours:

09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Thursday; 
09:00 to 16:30 Friday.

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