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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Council backs motion for review into sports pitch provision across Mid & East Antrim

3G sports pitch

Mid and East Antrim councillors have supported a motion for a review of sports pitches in the borough.

The motion brought forward at a meeting of the council last week by Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke, seeks to identify areas of need and target funding towards expansion.

Cllr Clarke said:

“3G/4G are versions of artificial grass pitches. This means they don’t flood, don’t get muddy. This type of pitch means less cancellations and dramatically increases the capacity of the pitch.

“In a climate like ours, and with many sports played through winter months, artificial surfaces are an essential component in pitch provision. The problem is – we don’t have enough.

“The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published a report last year analysing pitch provision across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which was then broken down into council area.

“MEA had a deficit of 72,032 hours of unmet demand – that’s 70,000 hours our residents wanted to be playing but couldn’t. And it gets worse – the report predicts that deficit could grow by more than 50% by 2030 if nothing is done. End result: our residents don’t participate or go elsewhere.

“We know there is a lack of provision in the borough: we want to know where precisely that need is keenest.”

He urged officers to consider Antiville playing fields in Larne.

“I am, of course, very aware of council’s financial challenges, and the need to be prudent, which is why the motion doesn’t just demand building new pitches here, there and everywhere.

“But as awareness of this issue rises at the national level, so to does the possibility of external funding. We want to be in a position to quickly access such funding and know how to use it most efficiently.”

Seconding the motion, Larne Lough DUP Cllr Gregg McKeen reported that one club in the borough has spent £40k per annum for use of a 3G pitch outside the borough.

“We must be losing a lot of revenue that could be ploughed back into 3G services in this area,” he noted.

Larne Lough Alliance Cllr Maeve Donnelly asked for grass pitches to be included in the review.

Carrickfergus Castle DUP Alderman Billy Ashe MBE reported teams from Carrick comprising of 170 children are travelling to play football at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey.

“It is time to stop playing games with this and stop being in competition with each other and develop a strategy across the borough to improve these facilities,” he stated.

“Don’t make sport so difficult that parents can’t afford it or can’t take them to it. It is time we took this seriously. It is time we looked at it across the borough. Let’s find the money. Let’s try and do the impossible for a change.”

Ballymena TUV Cllr Matthew Armstrong remarked it is something that affects the borough as a whole and underlined the need to look at all opportunities. He backed the call for a review of grass pitches some of which he said have no floodlights.

“Of late we have seen an absolute explosion in youth football in young people wanting to play the game.”

Carrickfergus Castle DUP Cllr Cheryl Brownlee noted:

“This is not just a pitch. It is good relations, mental health, economic development, so I really hope that this is taken seriously and progressed as soon as possible.”

Coast Road Ulster Unionist Ald Maureen Morrow said:

“We heard about DfC (Department for Communities) budget cuts and where do we get the money to do all this work. If DfC has budget cuts, then that will probably come down the line to us. I would love to see this work being done but we have to be sensible about the thing.

“To find the money to do all that is being asked is just a bit much in this cost of living crisis and when the council is under so much pressure. It is important to have the facilities but it also important that we don’t make promises to these organisations and groups that we can’t fulfil.”

Knockagh DUP Cllr Marc Collins commented:

“If we all took the approach Ald Morrow is taking, we would never get anything done. It is ambitious, but why don’t we go for it? Everyone has the same stories of clubs travelling outside the borough spending an absolute fortune and we are missing out on revenue.”

Coast Road Sinn Fein Cllr James McKeown said that he would be “very supportive” of the motion. 

“There are many sports other than soccer being played within this borough and I think we should be looking at facilities for them too.”

Knockagh DUP Cllr Peter Johnston responded:

“All these pitches are bookable and certainly there is no stipulation as to what sports are to be played on them. The motion is not excluding any particular sports.”

He went on to say a floodlit synthetic pitch in Carrickfergus which cost “just under £1m” overall was opened at a cost of £50k to the ratepayer.

Party colleague Larne Lough Ald Paul Reid said:

“There are bread and butter issues. These are important issues that have been brought to the chamber. There are other revenues of funding out there. We need to see what the problem is and then we need to address it.”

Bannside TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston urged a partnership approach and called for an “enabling fund” for community groups to develop stadia and pitches.

Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Cllr Roy Beggs asked for hockey provision to be included.

Bannside Sinn Fein Cllr Ian Friary reiterated a need for a grass pitch to be re-established in Portglenone.

Cllr Clarke said he was happy for grass pitches to be included in the review.


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