Anger over plan to ask people to pay to use games area in popular Sheffield park
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The Friends of Hillsborough Park say that the area earmarked for a Multi-User Games Area (MUGA) with a cafe and toilets is already a popular space for visitors to play casual games such as basketball on the hardstanding surface and have football kickabouts.
It is also the base for weekly riding sessions run by Sheffield Cycling 4 All for people with disabilities.
Four floodlit tennis courts would be moved to make room for the MUGA and the plan is to replace only three.
The council says it wants to improve the area. Current plans include the three tennis courts, indoor Padel tennis – a simplified form of the game – a games area for basketball, netball and five-a-side football, a mini golf course and an “informal access space”.
The council says that the idea has come about because of consultations last year with local people and park users. It is one of several MUGA plans proposed citywide.
Andy Chaplin, treasurer of the Friends group, says he is puzzled by the inclusion of a cafe and toilets as there are both only yards away at the restored old coach house in the park.
He said: “It’s about getting active! You can walk from there.”
Andy said: “We’ve been in discussions with the council planners for some time about what it might look like. We’ve got some very specific concerns about it.
‘Parks should be public green spaces’
“It’s now quite a big free-to-use area. All of the plans we’ve seen for it are making a large part of it into a pay-to-use area.
“The Friends of Hillsborough Park are basically a group of volunteers that come together largely to work in the walled garden. We believe parks should be public green spaces.
“At the moment some things that are being proposed, partly because the council are struggling for funding, are against the idea of open green space.”
He asked questions on behalf of the group at a recent Sheffield City Council communities, parks and leisure policy committee.
He asked whether allocating £207,000 to the scheme makes financial sense. The funding comes from money that developers gaining planning permission have to pay to contribute to community facilities.
A written answer on behalf of committee chair Cllr Richard Williams said: “The current MUGA and tennis court facility is not considered to be in good condition.
“This area of the park, with the exception of the new pump track, is looking tired and is need of renewal in order to improve and sustain good quality sports and recreation facilities for people of all ages and abilities.
“The MUGA area does not currently meet Sport England guidelines for such facilities and is not conducive to the playing of competitive games – both of 5-a-side football or basketball.
‘Enhanced cycling infrastructure’
“It makes sense to find a sustainable delivery model for providing and sustaining high quality sports and recreational facilities and services in Hillsborough Park, much in the same way that Age UK Sheffield are improving and sustaining high quality indoor spaces (the Gathering Ground) in the north area of the park.
“One of the main users of MUGA space is Cycling 4 All. The provision of enhanced cycle infrastructure across the Hillsborough Park, including a new flat cycling space as part of the pump track facility, is part of the plan for enabling Cycling 4 All to be accommodated in more appropriate spaces.
“Ideally, a new dedicated MUGA space will enable greater use by thosewishing to take part in a range of ball sports. There is also design consideration as part of the proposal to accommodate Cycling 4 All.”
He said the changes “are not about losing free space, but about reconfiguration of the space to enable a wider range of people and groups to engage in sport and recreational activity”.
Cllr Williams said the area will be available for casual play by anyone but sometimes it could be booked out by groups ‘with protected characteristics’.
The Friends group are now calling for the whole scheme to be scrutinised again after it goes out for procurement to the private sector.
‘We’d rather be here’
Tom Collister, one of the project coordinators at Sheffield Cycling 4 All who use the area for riding sessions, said: “We have been here for 14 years. This is a perfect spot for cycling – away from cars but close enough to the car park for people to get to.
“It is close to our containers (where they store bikes) so it is easy to set up. It’s a big space for our people to fill and not get in each other’s way.
“It’s a stepping stone to go on the paths around the park so it is perfect for us.”
Tom added: “We’ve been consulted a bit about what our options might be. Obviously we’d rather be here.”
He said there are more than 2,000 people on their database and Thursday sessions often attract 80 people. They have trikes for people who can’t ride on two wheels.
Vincent O’Neill of support service Home Instead and his client George Morton were enjoying a cycling session together.
Vincent said: “I’ve been coming with George for most of this year. They do get a lot of other people and groups coming. Another client, Marcus, comes.
“He gets a lot out of it and looks forward to coming. It would be a shame.”