Protests about Hillsborough Park Sheffield activity hub plan win a temporary delay
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Members of Sheffield City Council’s charity trustee sub-committee, who look after parks that are owned by council charity trusts, deferred a decision on the proposal to allow members to get some clarity on questions they felt had not been answered properly. Representatives from Friends of Hillsborough Park and Sheffield Cycling 4 All spoke out against the plan to redevelop the park’s multi-use games area (MUGA).
In the proposal, the hard-surfaced area next to tennis courts that is currently used for basketball, kickabouts and by disabled trike riders with Cycling 4 All would be partly taken over by the activity hub.
The scheme includes a resurfaced and redesigned games area,three tennis courts, a cafe and toilets. The area would be fenced off and the hub would offer a mixture of free and paid-for activities, such as ‘padeltennis’ and mini golf. The council put the project out to tender but only the existing park tennis courts provider Courtside came forward to run it.
The concession will allow Courtside a long-term contract to run the activity hub as well as tennis courts in Concord, High Hazels, Hollinsend and Ecclesfield Parks, some of which will be free to use. The project is being financially supported by the Lawn Tennis Association and Sport England and the aim is to include wider access to tennis coaching.
The Friends group recently launched a petition against the plan on website change.org (https://www.change.org/p/save-hillsborough-park-s-free-to-use-muga-multi-use-games-area) that has 1,080 signatures.
It says the MUGA is currently “a free-of-charge, easily-accessible, popular and well-used area of our local park, enjoyed by many members of our community, as well as various local charitable groups, such as Cycling 4 All.
“As part of a proposed Activity Hub development in Hillsborough Park, Sheffield City Council intend to significantly alter the existing MUGA, reducing its size significantly, enclosing it with fencing and making parts of the new area chargeable.”
The petition adds: “We believe that this is commercialisation of a public park, with little regard for those people in Hillsborough community who currently use the MUGA for free. With the current cost-of-living crisis, families and communities struggling with high energy bills and high demand for food banks we believe that these plans will leave our community worse off.”
Andy Chaplin from the Friends group asked several questions at the meeting, including whether the park is right place for such an activity hub. He also wanted to know what evidence there was that the plan would increase use of the area.
He added: “We believe we have demonstrated that there are significant doubts about this proposal. We have also shown that there there is significant public opposition to decreasing the size of the MUGA.
“We therefore ask the committee to send the proposal back to parks and countryside managers in order for them to completely rethink the plan and make it acceptable to the current users of the park and public petitioners.”
Tom Collister from Cycling 4 All said: “We want to register our concern that the provider has not put forward a workable solution which will enable us to offer our current level of activities and service.
“We are one of the UK’s leading inclusive cycling hubs and the only one in the Sheffield region. We have been operating from the park for over 14 years and welcome 100 people every week to our cycling sessions for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.
“Is the committee comfortable with approving a contract which will negatively impact the level and quality of service we are able to offer, as well as put us in conflict with other casual users of the MUGA due to the much reduced size?”
He asked the committee to ensure that it is written into the service provider’s contract that it must enable Cycling 4 All’s current level of services and operation.
Ruth Bell, the council’s head of parks and countryside, described Cycling 4 All as “an extremely important delivery partner in Hillsborough Park and other parks in future”. She added: “We’ve had a discussion of their needs and we are expecting it to be written into the contract that supporting them to continue their activities at the level they do will form part of that contract”.
Coun Dawn Dale said she was not convinced enough effort had been made made to find out the opinions of girls and young women on the plans during public consultations. She was also concerned that economically disadvantaged people could not afford to pay.
Council Green group leader Coun Douglas Johnson asked a lot of questions about the plan. He said he was concerned it was only a work in progress that “could be really positive”.
“If we’re making a decision we have to have a coherent plan and we’re not there yet, there are too many variables,” said Coun Johnson. “If we are talking about entering into a 25-year contract we need to be sure that’s right.”
Coun Richard Williams, who chairs the council’s parks committee, said that the scheme would be an improvement and a lot of work has gone into it. He was concerned that funding could be lost.
Council deputy leader Coun Julie Grocutt said: “I think that there is an awful lot of good work going off. We’re not very far away from where we do need to be.
“We’ve got a petition signed by over 1,000 people in just over a week, a lot of local people who are not very happy with what we are doing, and we are supposed to be working with people and listening to what they are saying.
“It would be wrong to do this today – let’s get this to a position that you are comfortable with this.”
Committee chair Coun Bryan Lodge proposed a deferral to get all points ironed out including the access for Cycling 4 All. The proposal will come back to the committee as soon as possible.