A POLICY regarding the use of the borough’s 22 football pitches has been agreed by Coleraine Borough Council.
The move has come after it emerged that Portrush Youths FC were not permitted to use the pitch at Parker Avenue for training because of an unwritten policy from Council stemming back 35 years.
After a period of consultation with the youth team and Council’s Parks Department a ‘Pitch Use’ policy was drafted and presented to councillors at last Tuesday night’s meeting in Cloonavin.
It recommended ‘council exercises a policy and practice of dedicating the 22 grass football pitches for the sole purpose of football matches’. No pitch will be used in excess of three hours per week.
However, several councillors were concerned as to where the policy leaves the likes of Portrush Youths, who cater for large number of children in an area restricted by space.
“I thought the whole ethos was to devise a policy which would enable children to use our football pitches and in particular Parker Avenue,” said Cllr Christine Alexander.
“We are all working for the same goal. Portrush Youths do not want to damage the pitch and I can’t see how under-8s playing a match for an hour once a week would damage the surface.
“This policy makes no differentiation between kids and adults using the pitch. It recommends pitches be only used for three hours a week so there is still time left available on it even if there is an adults game on a Saturday.
“Plus a turf management document produced by Sport England states that under-15s have half the impact on a pitch compared to adult use which means technically kids could use this pitch for another three hours a week.”
Richard Baker, Corporate Director of Leisure and Development Services, said Council had to think of all the teams in the borough and he revealed work was being carried out at Parker Avenue to extend the current training area.
“We have a responsibility to all 130 teams in this area and we feel we have been fair and consistent in coming up with a policy which will benefit them all throughout the course of the season,” he said.
“We want to come up with a solution which is suitable to everyone and ultimately our goal is to encourage children to get involved in sport.
“We are currently carrying out work at Parker Avenue to extend the training area off the pitch so to facilitate Portrush Youths numbers. The door is open to the club and we will do all we can to facilitate their needs.
“However, we cannot allow training on our pitches as it threatens their integrity.”
Ald Maurice Bradley said the standard of pitches in the borough is a result of this policy.
“There is more football played in this borough than any other borough and that is because of the high standard of pitches we have,” said Ald Bradley.
“Teams from all over the country are down here on a weekly basis to play games and they always compliment us on the quality of the pitches.
“The reason they are in such good condition is because they are managed properly.
“I want to see everyone being able to enjoy their football, but as I say it has to be managed properly. This policy works and I propose we adopt it in its draft format tonight.”
Cllr David Barbour seconded his proposal.
Cllr Alexander said there was a need for more consultation on this issue and proposed an amendment that the decision be deferred until next month to allow more time for consultation.
“Everyone appreciates the interim work that is being carried out but it still offers very limited space in terms of the number of kids,” said Cllr Alexander.
“There has been a lot of talk about training on the pitch but the club do not want to train on the pitch, they simply want to play an under-8s game in a quarter of the pitch.
“I don’t think we can sign off this policy tonight, we need to consult with the club further, surley we could come up with a localised solution.
“Belfast City Council implement a sensible approach to pitch use and I feel we should look at it and tweak the bit of it to suit our requirements.
“I propose that we defer a decision until the next Leisure and Environment meeting.”
This was seconded by Cllr David McClarty.
A vote was taken on the amendment with 10 voting in favour and 10 voting against. However, as it was a tie the chairman of the meeting, Cllr Sam Cole, who voted against the amendment, had the casting vote and voted against it.