Development of 3G sports pitches at Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre
What is happening at the site on Withy Grove Park?
Work is now underway to create two new 3G artificial sports pitches at Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre.
The development was approved by Cabinet in October 2020 and received planning permission in January 2021, with work beginning on site on Monday 29 March 2021.
The pitches will be complemented by a fully-accessible single-story sports pavilion to the south west of the existing Leisure Centre serving both the new artificial pitches and the existing Withy Grove play area. This will include four new team changing rooms with showers and separate disability accessible changing facilities as well as a changing room for officials.
The 3G pitches and the play area will both be visible from a spectator canopy, while the pavilion will also boast a social room with a small kitchen as well as a number of storage rooms.
The existing Leisure Centre car park is to be extended to the south to provide an additional 77 car spaces - taking the total to 206, including 10 disabled spaces - and eight of these spaces will include electric vehicle charging facilities. Two minibus spaces and two coach lay-bys will also be created along with 12 cycle hoops accommodating 24 cycles. Meanwhile, Brindle Road junction is to be re-modelled and improved.
The works will not affect the existing Leisure Centre building, although the current skatepark will be slightly remodelled to accommodate the new 3G pitches.
Why are the pitches being installed?
The creation of a South Ribble Playing Pitch Hub is an important part of the Council's Sports and Leisure Strategy 'More People More Active', which aims to open up facilities and extend opportunities for more people to get involved in activities of their choice and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Some 244 football teams play on formal pitches in South Ribble - including 48 adult teams, 60 youth teams and 136 mini-mixed teams. However, there are currently just five full-sized artificial pitches in the borough and only two available on weekends. The creation of the two new 3G pitches will help tackle increasing demand while helping to maintain existing grass pitches from overuse. At least one of the new artificial pitches will also be suitable for rugby, with shock pads to meet head impact criteria.
Why are we only interested in football?
We aren't. The new pitches won't just be used for football - at least one of the pitches will also be suitable for rugby, with shock pads to meet head impact criteria. The pitches will also provide a multisport facility appropriate for children. The South Ribble School Sport Partnership will use the pitches for after-school sports competitions and programmes for sports which can be played on grass.
Nevertheless, as outlined above, there is a high and increasing demand for football facilities both locally and nationally. The provision of 3G pitches for football use also allows us to seek significant investment from the Football Foundation, which is investing £1bn into football facilities over the next decade as part of the National Football Facilities Strategy (NFFS). NFFS targets include 1,000 new 3G pitches and 1,000 new pavilions in priority areas across the country.
What provisions are we making for other sports in South Ribble?
As part of the Council's 'More People, More Active' strategy, we have undertaken analysis of current and future (20 years) supply and demand for the borough. This analysis found that the current supply of swimming pools in South Ribble exceeds demand, as does the number of available sports halls. Sport hall facilities at educational sites have a lower used capacity than those at our public leisure centres and the Council intends to work with schools, colleges, sports clubs and community centres to increase the availability of community use, and where possible align key clubs across the borough to local schools and facilities.
The South Ribble Tennis Centre is a well-located and popular facility, and is a recognised venue for higher-level tournaments, especially for wheelchair tennis. Meanwhile, the number of squad courts (six) available in the borough already exceeds demand. However, it has been recognised that there is an opportunity to create a specialist racket sports hub at the Tennis Centre which could include facilities for tennis, short tennis, squash, badminton and table tennis.
Will the new pavilion and toilet facilities be open to the general public?
The pavilion is predominantly intended to provide changing rooms and toilets for users of the 3G pitches. This is to safeguard vulnerable adults and children using the facilities. The existing Leisure Centre currently provides toilets for park users and these facilities are to be refurbished to improve provision.
The pavilion will, however, include a café which will be open for refreshments at busy times for users of both the children's play area and the park users. At times when this café is open, the pavilion toilets will be available in addition to the Leisure Centre toilets.
What about trees in the area?
The pitches have been positioned to retain trees where possible. Unfortunately, however, some tree removal has been unavoidable. Of the 23 individual trees and six groups recorded on the site, 10 trees and three groups had to be removed. One tree was a Class A specimen (higher quality), one tree and one group were Class B (moderate quality) and eight trees and two groups were Class C (low quality, of limited amenity value). Five trees were also identified as unsuitable for retention based on their health and condition. While the loss of these trees is regrettable it is felt that this is far outweighed by the physical, social and mental health benefits of the facility and even more trees are set to planted in their place.
How is the loss of trees being mitigated?
A substantial planting scheme has been approved by the Council Arborist in line with Council policies as described in the Tree Planting Plan. In total, 144 new trees are to be planted on site along with more than 1,000 whips (young trees) which will grow alongside them. These trees will benefit from a five-year establishment maintenance period and will flourish for many decades to come.
What about the impact on birds and other wildlife?
The Council's Ecology Consultant has deemed the site to be generally of low ecological value but did note some potential issues relating to nesting birds, bats and great crested newts.
As work on the site has been taking place in nesting season, each tree has been manually checked for signs of nesting birds before removal.
Three trees just off site were identified as having bat roosting potential but there will be no direct impact on these trees. Two of the trees were identified as being on the edge of the impact zone for floodlighting, however the Council's Ecology Consultant noted the risk is low as floodlighting will primarily be used during winter when bats are not active, and would be turned off at 10pm. Floodlights will be fitted with cowled lamps to reduce upward light and overspill.
Significant efforts have been made to ensure that a pond on the site can be retained, meaning that any great crested newts that may live in the pond will be unaffected.
Why haven't the felled trees already been removed?
Some residents have expressed concerns that, if the felled trees are left too long, hedgehogs and other wildlife could make a home there - only to be disturbed at a later date. It is actually our intention to leave some of the tree trunks on site to create a natural wildlife habitat and refuge. These will be secured so that they do not present a safety hazard. Any hedgehogs will not be evicted from their new home!
Doesn't the Council care about the Environment?
Of course we do.
In 2019, South Ribble Borough Council declared a climate emergency, pledging to work to make the borough carbon neutral by 2030. A Climate Emergency Working Group was formed and a Climate Change Strategy was developed.
As part of this commitment, we vowed to plant more than 110,000 new trees - one for every South Ribble resident. Despite the challenges created by the covid 19 pandemic, we are well on course to deliver on this promise.
The Council has also recently expanded its wildflower meadows programme in a boost to biodiversity across the borough, planting in 31 different locations across the borough - including Withy Grove Park and other sites in Bamber Bridge. You can find a full list of wildflower locations here.
We are proud of our local green spaces and parks and we work together with a number of 'Friends of' groups who carry out a range of environmental projects in their local green spaces on a voluntary basis.
When will the work be finished?
It is expected the new 3G artificial pitches will be available for use by the end of 2021, with all planned works completed early in 2022.