This week’s news that the all weather sports facility at Deepings School has finally been condemned is the latest in a long-line of reduced services and broken promises by the District and County Councils.
The AWP (All Weather Pitches) commonly known as the ‘astroturf’ are part of the sports fields at the Deepings School. The fields are supposed to be a community facility but they have been turned into a cash cow for a private company (1Life) who care little about their upkeep. Worse still, the maintenance of the fields is paid for almost exclusively by residents of the Deepings who are no longer able to freely use the facilities.
What is the Deepings Special Expense Area?
The Deepings SEA is an out-of-date tax levied only on residents of Market Deeping and Deeping St James. It is only about £3 per household each year which equates to a total revenue of about £16,000. This money can only be spent on grounds maintenance on the fields North of Spalding Road commonly known as ‘the school fields’ or ‘the rugby club’.
Over several years I have been complaining about the injustice of the Deepings SEA and this year I managed to get it on the agenda of the SKDC Finance Committee and the Cabinet Member is currently consulting Ward Members (including me) for views on it’s future. I have responded to say it should be abolished.
Who do the fields belong to?
The ownership of the field is split between Lincolnshire County Council and Deepings St James Parish Council. The land, including the Astroturf, is supposed to be maintained by South Kesteven District Council.
Who controls the fields?
Access to the grass fields, the astroturf and the outdoor changing rooms is controlled by 1Life who currently hold the contract for managing the Deepings Leisure Centre. The contract, which has been held by 1Life for 10 years, is due to expire early next year.
1Life manage public bookings of the fields and the astroturf and they keep all the revenue.
Who uses the fields?
The fields used to be freely accessible to everyone. About five years ago, the Deepings School put up a six foot fence around the perimeter of the fields which effectively prohibited any informal or unauthorised use of the grass fields or the AWP.
The Deepings School uses the fields for PE lessons and sports clubs. The Deepings Rugby Club are allowed free use of the rugby fields in the North corner of the site. Various other sports clubs including Bourne Deeping Hockey Club and Deepings Rangers have pay for use of the field and the AWP.
In the last 3 years, Deepings United Football Club has made increasing use of the AWP and the playing fields. DUFC is a real success story for promoting physical wellbeing among young people. From a standing start, the club now operates training for 270 people, mostly youngsters and have formed 8 competitive football teams. Last year, the Deepings United paid over £5,000 to 1Life for pitch booking fees. None of this money went back to either the SKDC or the school. The additional management costs of the extra bookings were minimal, i.e. it is almost all unearned profit for 1Life.
What’s wrong with the All Weather Pitch?
If properly maintained, the facility has a shelf-life of around 20 years. The Deepings facility has been in a shocking state for many years. At a Deepings Local Forum meeting in 2010, Councillors were told that repairs were proposed for August that year which were “above and beyond patching and should prolong the life of the pitch for a further five years”. That was nearly ten years ago and so it is not surprising that the pitch has now deteriorated even further to the point that it is a dangerous surface on which to play sport. I don’t mean dangerous in the ‘nanny-state health and safety gone mad’ sense of the word, rather I mean that it is proper dangerous. The Bourne Deeping hockey club gave up using it for competitive matches and adult training years ago after a number of incidents including a couple that involved the air ambulance. They now reluctantly have to play and train in Peterborough and their Chairman has lobbied the Council for better facilities. More recently, young footballers have been injured not just by the uneven playing surface but by a collapsing fence.
Did Councillors know about the problems with the All Weather Pitch?
Most Councillors are well aware of the issues with the AWP because, apart from anything else, Mr Peter Moisey of Bourne Deeping Hockey Club asked a question about it at the Full Council meeting in January of this year. His question included the following comments:
“Having failed to oversee that those responsible ensure maintenance of the facility at Deepings Leisure Centre, its continual neglect and under investment has rendered the pitch condemned as to use for anything other than the basic of standards.
“As a result the decline of Bourne Hockey Club est 1926 and Deeping Hockey Club left them with no alternative but to merge. Now our club with 6 men’s teams, 3 ladies’ teams and a thriving junior section proudly representing Bourne and the Deepings has no alternative but to train and play its matches at AMVC in Cambridgeshire.
“Is it not time that the council seriously met the needs of its residents in the south of the county in provision of suitable playing surface along with the much required complimentary facilities to support the keenly followed sport of hockey in this area?”
But in these times of austerity, can we afford to fix it?
The cost of repairing or replacing the existing AWP would be about £200,000 which does sound like a lot of money. However, until recently the pitch was booked frequently at a cost of £53 per booking.
Let’s assume that it was used 44 weeks each year (to allow for 8 weeks for holidays and inclement weather), and 20 hours each week with a booking fee of £50 per session. This would generate a revenue of £44,000. Admittedly, some of this would need to be spent on minor repairs and staff but there should still be a healthy surplus to plough back into repairs and replacement of the equipment.
Add to this, the additional revenue which should accrue from the school which, as an academy, is a privately-run entity which, in the absence of a lease, has no more access to the fields than any other organisation. I can confirm that there is no lease between the Deepings School and the landowners. In 2012, the school claimed that a lease was an essential requirement for a transition to academy status yet, eight years on, no such lease has been signed. This is apparently due to the lethargy of the County Council’s legal department.
What’s the solution?
In 2017, the incoming Leader of SKDC, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) promised a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. Over two years later and we have only just identified the school fields as the preferred site. In the New Year we expect to have a consultation about some feasibility works which have been carried out. I would expect the rest of the consultation, design and planning process will take at least a year and the building process will take another year more. We can only hope that the new facility will be as brilliant as the posters claim
What have local Councillors done?
The Independent Councillors for the Deepings, i.e. Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself have all been active in asking questions formally and informally at almost every meeting of Full Council and several times at Cabinet about the existing and proposed facilities for the Deepings.
Personally, I have been interested in the AWP for more than 10 years as my wife and children all used to play hockey on it. More recently, I have been lobbying on behalf of the hockey club, the Deepings Swimming Club and Deepings United FC regarding the high charges and poor condition of the indoor and outdoor facilities. I have organised meetings between representatives of these clubs with relevant SKDC staff (DRUFC were invited but couldn’t make the dates).
On the Conservative leaflet for Deepings St James published prior to the election in May, one of the candidates claimed to be “working with SKDC, LCC and other stakeholders towards improving the all-weather sports facilities in Deeping St James”. I did ask for specific details at the time but none were forthcoming. Since then, to the best of my knowledge, none of the Conservatives in the Deepings have asked any formal questions about sports facilities in the Deepings.
When all said and done it appears that, until now, the Conservative-run Council have failed to adequate plans for new facilities, failed to maintain the old facilities and failed to work in partnership with other councils and stakeholders to meet the needs of residents and sports team. The Deepings deserves better.