Ballymena Showgrounds. Image: Mark Cannon
Nine clubs responded to a community consultation over sports pitches in Mid and East Antrim despite a shortfall of 78 pitches in the borough, councillors have been told.
The borough council’s Environment and Economy Committee, which met at The Braid, on Monday 22nd January, has agreed Ballymena Showgrounds would be the first site for a new full-size 3G pitch in the local authority’s pitch strategy.
Councillors also agreed a location be identified in Whitehead/Larne Lough area ahead of any funding opportunities.
A council review of pitch facilities in the borough has indicated there are 55 grass soccer pitches, 11 Gaelic pitches and 13 rugby pitches. There are 14 acres of synthetic turf. These figures do not include school facilities.
The shortfall has been measured using a recommended ‘Fields in Trust Six acre Standard’.
Philip Thompson, the council’s operations director, described the response to the recent survey as “disappointing”.
He reported five responses from Ballymena, two from Larne, one from Kells and one from Whitehead highlighting need for 3G provision in Ballymena and Whitehead.
“The recommendation is to seek to prioritise 3G development in Ballymena,” Mr Thompson noted. He also underlined the need to locate a site for 3G provision in Whitehead.
Ballymena Showgrounds. Image: UAV NI.
Knockagh DUP Councillor Peter Johnston said he shared disappointment over engagement but added he was “slightly confused” over why it was needed when an “extensive piece of work already covered this”.
“Does the evidence of nine responses drive where we invest? I think there should be a wider piece of work than looking at the nine responses. With all the work we have been doing for pitch provision in Carrickfergus, it would not sit well that we would make a proposal without mentioning Carrickfergus in that,” he stated.
“I propose that we accept the proposal but also add in the fact that Carrickfergus needs additional 3G provision.”
Mr Thompson said a report in September concluded “urgent need” for Carrickfergus, Larne Lough, Larne and Ballymena.
Braid DUP Alderman William McCaughey said any previous data should be utilised. Bannside TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston said although there may not have been many responses, it is “clear from the data there is a major need in the Ballymena area”.
Carrick Castle Ulster Unionist Cllr Robin Stewart pointed out Carrick bowlers are “very keen” to get a 3G pitch. Mr Thompson replied: “Given the issue we have had with long-term maintenance with bowling greens, that is a good opportunity going forward.”
Coast Road DUP Cllr Andrew Clarke asked for an update for Larne.“Whitehead is a very distinct area. I am concerned we are not focusing where population need is,” he said.
Mr Thompson commented: “The issue around Antiville may have cooled slightly. I think it is the case of getting the right opportunity to move forward. We are still working closely with Wellington Rec.”
Carrick Castle DUP Alderman Billy Ashe MBE said: “I am delighted to see this strategy is starting to take shape.”
However, he suggested any proposed location should have been brought back to members to discuss. He told the meeting of children travelling from Carrick to Newtownabbey to play football matches every week.
“We need to get back into a room and discuss these issues rather than an offiicer making decisions and putting a fait accompli before elected members.”
Mr Thompson said in Carrick, one of the “key projects is a 2G to 3G pitch” at the Amphitheatre Leisure Centre, at a cost of £250,000. He noted one of the “biggest users” at the Amphitheatre is Whitehead Eagles.
Councillors were told previously that by March 2024, the borough council will have invested almost £4.3m since 2015 in improving grass pitches, delivering and upgrading 3G and synthetic pitches and assisting delivery in the education sector.