Stafford Borough Council has revealed plans to transform the town’s Westbridge Park as part of its Stone Leisure Strategy and a public consultation on the proposals closed last month.
But there are concerns that funding for a new football pitch at Alleyne’s Sports Centre has been cut and plans to convert the old swimming pool into a sports hall have been “quietly dropped”
Alleyne’s Academy is now considering its own strategy to develop the sports centre facilities into a central hub for local groups.
It is calling on residents and groups to have their say on their previous experiences of using the centre and what improvements and facilities they would like to see in the future by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Crookshank, chair of governors at Alleyne’s Academy, quizzed Stafford Borough Council at its full meeting on Tuesday, November 23.
She said: “The new Stone Leisure Strategy is proposing that s106 sports money is allocated to increase the available total funds.
"The main new elements of the proposal at Westbridge are parking and a kiosk, hardly sports.
“The only element that could be described as sport is the MUGA (multi use games area), but funding for that has already been provided by the sale of land at Westbridge Park.
"Would the council please explain why it is not using the s106 sports money to fund the new astro pitch at Alleyne’s which was included in the original strategy and (for which) there is a clear need?
"The 2016 Stone Leisure Strategy was to improve sports provision with a new 3G astro pitch and the conversion of the swimming pool to a sports hall.
"The new strategy has wiped out these commitments removing funding for the new astro pitch and quietly dropping the words ‘conversion to a sports centre’ from the strategy.
"This will have a significant negative impact on sport locally.
"Based on the borough council’s own costings the conversion of the swimming pool will cost in excess of one million pounds, so the current strategy leaves the school nearly £600,000 short.
"This along with the removal of the £200,000 for the astro pitch will seriously financially damage the school.
"I would remind the council that a key principal of the original strategy was to ‘not impact adversely on the school either functionally or financially’.
Richard Jones from Stone Old Alleynians said: "Stone Old Alleynians Football Club have returned to its spiritual home at Alleyne’s Academy, investing a significant amount of time and money to create a thriving community club with over 25 teams playing at the site, meaning over 95% of all community football related activity now takes place at the school.
"The current floodlit astro pitch is not in good condition and will last for maybe a couple of years.
"The pitch’s poor quality means it is quite rightly not licensed for matches and when it becomes unfit for practice hundreds of players will have nowhere to play mid-week.
"Both the Football Foundation’s Stafford plan and borough council’s own pitch strategy have identified the need for a new 3g astro pitch in the Stone area.
"As a club we want to offer the various local leagues the option to use the facility as a central venue for both junior and veteran’s football, as well as bringing our first team, who have had to play ‘outside of Stone’ for over 20 years, back to the town facility.
"Having seen and heard about the extremely positive community wide project, which has had very good press coverage, why is the borough council not actively supporting our thriving club to develop a football hub at Alleyne’s for Stone Town and the surrounding area by investing in a new 3G astro pitch at Alleyne’s?
"Stone Old Alleynians FC have hundreds of juniors based at Alleyne’s Sports Centre which is hugely important to the social, mental and physical wellbeing of hundreds of junior players, particularly since emerging from lockdown.
"If the astro pitch is not replaced we will not be able to train in the winter as we will not have a floodlit pitch.
"Given the impact on so many young people’s wellbeing how can the council justify removing funding for the new pitch?"
Former Stone Town Council member Andy Osgathorpe said: "Whilst the council will be aware of my support for the new play areas intended for Westbridge Park, (Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge) will also be aware of my planning concerns expressed at the last Stone Town Council meeting on 2 November, which she attended and presented on the same subject.
"My concern at the time included possible conflict with policies within the Stone Neighbourhood Plan and the harm done to part of the current playing field in reducing its size, by building the play areas upon it.
"Given Sport England objections to the plan, in particular not atoning to their playing field protection policies, how does the council intend to mitigate against this?"
Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge, cabinet member for leisure, responded to the questions at Tuesday’s meeting.
She said: "To make an omelette Mr Osgathorpe, we must break a few eggs.
"Every consultee on a planning application will want it 100% their way, which I’m sure you know cannot happen.
"We thanked Sport England for their informal reply to the recent public consultation stage of the £1.5m transformation of Westbridge Park.
"I should also mention how pleased I was with the positive response we had from local people to our plans to transform the park as part of that consultation.
"Council officers and Sport England have now met and discussed the response before the formal planning application for Westbridge Park is submitted.
"My hopes are we can move quickly ti create a beautiful destination park that the people of Stone can be proud of.
"The council’s chief executive and the head of operations will be meeting representatives of the academy on Monday, November 29 to respond to and discuss the academy’s comments made as part of the recent consultation.
"I hope everyone involved will make a positive contribution to the discussions about the future possibilities for the school and wider community.
"Westbridge Park is a key part of the Stone Leisure Strategy and we must not forget that as well as the multi-use games area that has been mentioned there will be a fantastic new wheeled sports facility.
"I’m sure very welcome with the increased popularity skateboarding has had since the Olympics, an outdoor gym, superb play facilities and enhanced areas for walking and cycling which I am sure you would agree are so important to our health, both physical and mental.
"Along with the exciting plans for Westbridge Park we must not forget we are also still making a significant amount of money available to Alleyne’s Academy, which will be of benefit to the community as well as the school.
"We have already funded the recent refurbishment and decoration of the sports hall changing rooms.
"And we will be working with the academy to adapt the existing facilities to enable more community use.
"We have put aside £430,000 towards the decommissioning of the old swimming pool.
"The council also wants to continue working with local organisations to improve the leisure offer in the town and would be happy to work with Stone Old Alleynians Football Club to support our commitment to this.
"I must agree all sports are hugely important to people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing."