Hillsborough Park: Sheffield activity hub plan gets a step closer despite petition protest
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Sheffield City Council’s charity trustee sub-committee decided that the scheme, which would replace much of the current multi-use games area with tennis courts, partly free and partly paid-for activities, should go forward to the next stage of a legal process.
The park, like many in the city, is the property of a charity trust, of which the council is the sole trustee. By law, the proposal has to be advertised in the press to allow people to make comments and objections, which will then be considered by the sub-committee.
The proposal also requires planning permission.
The company running the activity hub and the park tennis courts would be given a 25-year lease of the space. The new facilities would include three new tennis courts, a resurfaced, redesigned and free-to-use multi-use games area (MUGA), a refreshment area and toilets.
New activities on offer in the paid-for area may include ‘padel’ tennis – a simplified form of the game – and mini golf. The plan has been put together with support and funding from the Lawn Tennis Association, who want to widen access to tennis coaching, and Sport England.
The Friends of Hillsborough Park have been spearheading a long-running campaign against the scheme, which would also see improvements to tennis courts in eight city parks. Andy Chaplin from the Friends group presented a 1,200-signature petition opposing the plan.
Mr Chaplin said the MUGA, which is used for ball games such as football and basketball, should not be cut to a third of its former size. He said that 1,200 people had signed the petition and 101 people had commented to oppose the plan as well.
He said: “The big, open-plan MUGA is a popular amenity in the park.”
Mr Chaplin criticised a council consultation document graphic that he said did not show the real size of the new MUGA and pictured the current one with “a very greyed-out image”.
He repeated concerns about the future of Sheffield Cycling 4 All, a charity that uses the MUGA during its popular trike-riding sessions for adults who can’t ride a two-wheel bike due to disability or a health condition.
Coun Fran Belbin said that the Friends had invited her to visit the park: “It was unfortunate that the Arctic Monkeys were setting up, which did indicate some of the limitations for local people of using the park at the moment. I did get a good understanding of the way it can get to feel that the decisions are taken away from people.”
The Friends’ petition says that the group believes the tennis courts are partly being moved to make life easier for the Tramlines music festival to bring in equipment. Their objections also include “commercialisation of a public park, with little regard for those people in Hillsborough community who currently use the MUGA for free”.
Hillsborough ward councillor Henry Nottage said: “Free-to-use sports facilities in parks are a very essential requirement at the best of times and the cost-of-living crisis has certainly deepened this need. Without a crystal ball it’s very hard to say whether usage of the area would be lowered or increased by it being smaller but arguably of better quality.
“I’ve also had people contact me in support, particularly people who use the pump track who I see regularly because I have a bike shop in the area. Two things I am being told, particularly by parents of young children who use that part of the park, is that a toilet in that area and refreshments and somewhere to sit down would be good.
“The other element is that there have been security incidents that would be slightly addressed by the cameras that would be going in as part of the proposal.”
He said he was against “unbridled” commercialisation of public space but the proposal could help to boost the local economy, creating jobs.
“Unfortunately I can’t sit here and say everyone I have spoken to in the ward is supportive or everyone is dismissive of this, it’s a very mixed tapestry,” said Coun Nottage.
“But Cycling 4 All have been using that area for a long time. The initial proposals weren’t really workable from their end.
“I’m very pleased to see there has been some movement from the proposals in terms of the design element and if there is a way for us, to a greater or lesser extent, to have some cake and eat some cake, I would be supportive of that.”
Jo Pearce of Sheffield parks and countryside service said that councillors had deferred their decision in March, when Coun Dawn Dale had argued that more consultation was needed with young people.
She said that consultation has now taken place with three local primary schools and Forge Valley secondary, as well as with young park users on the site. She said council staff had been inspired to hear how much young people value the park, adding that around 80 per cent of them support the new scheme.
Ms Pearce said that discussions are ongoing with Cycling 4 All and good progress is being made. She said that the group are concerned about whether they get in the way of young people wanting to use the MUGA.
A possible solution suggested by a young person in the consultation is for the group to use the ‘learn to ride’ track which runs alongside the ‘all wheels’ cycling track. The MUGA design is also being tweaked to ensure Cycling 4 All riders can easily access that area.
Ms Pearce said staff are concerned that the decision is not deferred again because it could put £150,000 of Sport England funding in jeopardy as deadlines are tight. She said £25,000 funding has already been lost by delays.