Members of Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet are next week set to agree a ground breaking partnership with the Football Association (FA), which could see over £9m invested in new football facilities across the city in the coming years.
If approved, the “long-term relationship”- the first of its kind in the country – will involve investing around £9.6m in a new wave of up to six football hubs.
This is the city’s biggest-ever single investment in outdoor sports facilities, with the majority of funding coming from national sources.
The news comes after last month’s FA Chairman’s England Commission Second Report in which The FA launched a national initiative to invest in grassroots facilities, with Sheffield being chosen as the first city in which the programme will be delivered.
Eventually, it is hoped that the scheme will involve up to 30 towns and cities, after Sheffield has acted as the national pilot.
Councillor Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure at Sheffield City Council, said: “Football is the city’s biggest team sport with over 800 teams, the majority of which are junior and youth teams. It is significant for sports participation, community activity and associated health benefits.
“However, The FA has recognised that the grassroots game throughout England faces a funding and participation crisis. Cuts to our budgets in Sheffield mean it is getting harder to maintain our local pitches.
“Therefore we welcome this announcement especially as we will be the first city to agree a partnership with The FA to significantly improve football facilities for the thousands of children and adults alike who play football in Sheffield.
“This is an opportunity to protect football facilities from a potential downward spiral of declining quality and falling participation and instead look to better pitches, more people playing and new income to invest in facilities.
“As well as being a boost for those who already play football, the initiative is expected to increase participation and, in the longer term, provide a financial saving to the council as more play is concentrated on fewer pitches.
“The opportunities and benefits that this partnership will bring if agreed are substantial.”
The FA is proposing to set up a local charitable trust to oversee its investment programme. In some cases, the trust would take an operating interest in the new facilities and the resulting income would be reinvested in Sheffield’s football.
The first phase of the investment programme would focus on creating a number of “hub” sites with state-of-the art floodlit 3G artificial pitches, high-quality grass pitches and changing facilities.
The longer term aim is to secure further funding for a second phase of investment in grass pitches across the city.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke said: “We have a clear problem in England with facilities and whilst The FA and Premier League Facilities Fund continues to do a fantastic job in generating new 3G pitches, we need a revolution in terms of the numbers of quality pitches we need.
“A new 3G pitch will allow us to teach young players the skills they need to pursue their ambitions and fulfil our commitment to find more and better young English players for the future of the England team.
“I must congratulate Sheffield City Council for their ambition. They recognise the importance of football to this great city and came to us to help work up a solution to the problem of maintaining and funding facilities. We look forward to seeing this project to fruition.”
As well as improving health and encouraging fitness, the programme would also create jobs, both in the construction phase and in the management and operation of the new facilities.
Of the £9.6m investment, a significant contribution has been pledged by The FA. It is intended that just over £1m would come from Sheffield City Council, together with additional funding from a range of other city and national partners.
The proposal in Sheffield is to invest in up to six hub sites. It is proposed that the first two of these hubs would be at Thorncliffe Recreation Ground in High Green, and Graves Leisure Centre in the south of the city.
Both sites are currently the subject of planning applications for new swimming and leisure centres, in partnership with Sport England and the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine (NCSEM).
The Thorncliffe proposal, creating what is described as a significant “sports park” in the north of Sheffield, includes the provision of a 3G artificial pitch with up to three adult grass pitches and a new changing pavilion.
At Graves, meanwhile, it is proposed that there would be two 3G pitches, an adult grass pitch and a new changing pavilion.
Public consultation and planning applications will be form part of the outdoor developments at both Thorncliffe and Graves. Both are scheduled to open during 2016
The City Council and The FA are currently working up options for the remaining potential hub sites in the city
Cabinet members will meet on Wednesday, November 12 and are expected to agree the proposals, which will then go before a full meeting of Sheffield City Council at a later date.