Poll: Dramatic drop in sports pitch hire following price hike in Tendring

SPORTS pitch bookings at council run sites in Tendring have dropped by 45% following a hike in charges, new figures have revealed.

Figures obtained by the East Anglian Daily Times under a Freedom of Information request show there were a total of 689 bookings during the 2011/12 financial year compared to 1,003 in 2010/11.

The news comes just weeks after the London Olympics which it was hoped would prompt a sporting legacy across the country.

Bookings over the busier summer period also show a year-on-year decline. Between April and September 2010, there were 399 bookings while in 2011 there were 297 and this year 226.

Tendring District Council (TDC) introduced a 49% price hike for hiring its sports pitches in Clacton, Harwich, Frinton and Kirby in April 2011 as part plans to find �4.4million worth of council savings.

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In an effort to boost usage numbers, councillor Stephen Mayzes, who is responsible for leisure, introduced a 25% ‘Big Society’ discount in April this year. The discount is applied for users who take responsibility for putting up their own nets and corner flags.

Mr Mayzes said: “Clearly a lot more needs to be done to get usage to the right level and to achieve the council’s aspirations to get on the back of the Olympic legacy.

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“At the time of the increase, we felt we had to put up the prices by 49% because if we hadn’t we would have risked not being able to afford to run sports pitches at all.

“In hindsight we got it wrong and I held my hands up. That’s why I introduced the 25% discount this year.”

He added that research carried out by council officers found that nationally there was a decline in adults playing football. According to the Football Association, there were 1,650 fewer club sides in 2011 compared to four years ago.

“It’s about getting the right balance between encouraging people to play sport and justifying how much we subsidise something which not everyone in the district uses,” Mr Mayzes said.

He said prices would continue to be reviewed under the next budget and the council would also be looking at applying for grants from Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund to subsidise pitches and teams.

Youth teams currently receive a 50% discount on all sports pitch hire and fees for other leisure facilities - such as swimming pools - have been frozen.

Opposition councillors and representative for Harwich East Central David McLeod raised the issue at last month’s council meeting.

Commenting on the figures, he said: “There’s hardly any football being played in Low Road in Dovercourt. Teams said they are actually having to play in Wix where it is cheaper to play on a village pitch than in their own town.

“We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to play sport. At the moment they are being priced off the playing fields.

“If they really mean what they are saying and want to jump on this Olympic legacy they need to urgently review their charges so we can make use of all the sports facilities in the district.”

Have you been affected by the price increase or has your sports team been forced to disband because players cannot afford the fees? E-mail your comments to amie.keeley@eadt.co.uk

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