Playing fields under threat?

Not according to LibDem councillor Martin Mullaney. Here, he explains proposals for a way to improve facilities.

Rumours about the future of Holders Lane playing fields

E-mails are presently flying about, urging residents to sign an electronic petition by an organisation called Kingsbridge about the future of Holders Lane playing fields in Moseley.

The e-mails and the petition are using scaremongering language and information that is factually incorrect. I hope you will give me the opportunity to correct these e-mails and petition and clarify what exactly is happening with these playing fields.

Where are Holders Lane playing fields?

Holders Lane playing fields is located just south of Cannon Hill Park, on the east side of the River Rea. The map that shows the location of Holders Lane playing fields, Pebble Mill playing fields, Holders Wood and what was formerly the Brockley Grove 1950s pre-fab estate.

Holders Lane playing fields - location

Holders Lane playing fields - location

Holders Lane playing fields can at best be described as “requiring investment”. What you see today was laid out in the late 1970s. Another map shows the separate elements of Holders Lane playing fields and Pebble Mill playing fields.

Holders Lane playing fields - location

Holders Lane playing fields - location

Holders Lane playing fields come under the Leisure, sport and Culture portfolio and consists of the following:

  • Field 1 – this presently contains 3 football pitches
  • Field 2 – this is presently contains a cricket pitch
  • Field 3 – this is presently not used, but has in the recent past been used for rugby
  • Red Gravel all weather pitch – this has not been used for sporting activities for at least 15 years and is today used as an occasional car park for events.
  • The Pavilion – this is a two storey 1970 building that consists of two levels of changing room. The interior is very bare, with no heating and no working showers. The exterior is in a dreadful condition, with rotting wood everywhere. (See photos)
  • The road from Holders Lane to the Pavilion – this also double as a car park and is in a dreadful condition. There are 6 inch potholes along its entire length

Pebble Mill playing fields are owned by the Education Department. However, due to the lack of any changing rooms, few schools use it.

What is the future for Holders Lane playing fields

Holders Lane playing fields and Pebble Mill playing fields need investment, both to upgrade their playing pitches and improve their changing room facilities. To bring both playing fields up to an acceptable standard will require considerable investment running into several millions.

Over the last three years, the Council has been exploring ways of encouraging community and sports groups to take on the management of underused playing fields, such as Holders Lane and Belchers Lane playing fields. Community and sports groups can access funding that Councils can’t and we know that volunteers of sports clubs will put in considerable hours looking after the facilities.

Birmingham  City Council is currently in the process of considering whether a number of playing fields are suitable for being leased to community and sports clubs. The lease always contains conditions ensuring affordable community access to the playing fields. These playing fields include:

  • Holdford Drive in Perry Barr
  • The former Midlands Electricity Board playing fields in Small Heath
  • Belchers Lane playing fields – these have not been used since 1980. They now have a cricket pitch and football pitch laid out.

Others in the pipe line include Spring Lane in Erdington and Holders Lane/Pebble Mill playing fields in Moseley.

Kingsbridge and University College Birmingham (UCB)

Just over two years ago, Birmingham City Council was approached by Kingsbridge who indicated that they were interested taking on a long term lease of Holders Lane playing fields – Kingsbridge at the time consisted of Riverside Church, Jericho Foundation and Local Leagues. Kingsbridge and UCB were working in partnership to invest in the playing fields and retain them community use.

At present Kingsbridge and UCB are no longer working together and both have declared their individual interest in the following playing fields: Kingsbridge in Holders Lane and UCB in both Holders Lane and Pebble Mill

Following the initial collaboration between Kingsbridge and UCB, the Council has spent a considerable amount of time trying to get the two parties to work together. This included my own involvement trying to facilitate an acceptable and appropriate solution since last November.

The way forward?

The City Council is keen to encourage community groups and sport clubs to become more heavily involved in managing our unattached playing fields. In this case, we have two organisations that want to improve Holders Lane playing fields and allow significant community access, there may be others. We will need to determine which is best placed to do this. Consideration will include certain criteria listed below.

Any lease on the playing fields will include conditions protecting community access, public right of way or access (this is important for dog walkers) and even limits on cost of hire – for example we normally specify that the cost of the hire of the pitches is no higher than the Council price. There will be break clauses, if the organisations breach these conditions.

In this case we also want to include Pebble Mill playing fields into the lease, so that they are upgraded for school use – few schools use these playing fields due to the lack of changing rooms. If we don’t include Pebble Mill playing fields, then there is the danger that they will remain underused with limited opportunity for capital investment for many years, while Holders Lane playing fields receive all the investment.

Because two organisations are interested in the lease, we are legally bound to go down the procurement route. This will require the Council to set out criteria on how any bid will be judged. The judging process will need to be fair, open and transparent.

In this case, it is likely that the criteria will include:

  • How the bidder will upgrade and manage both Holders Lane and Pebble Mill playing fields.
  • How the bidder will ensure affordable community access and school use.
  • How the bidder will maintain public access across the playing fields.
  • That the bidders proposal is acceptable from a Planning viewpoint.
  • A sound business plan of investment and continuing maintenance of both playing fields.

The procurement will be advertised in the local newspapers to see who else may be interested. If we do not do this, then the Council is vulnerable to judicial review.

It is envisaged that the procurement process will encompass normal leases where the successful organisation or organisations pays an annual charge for leasing the playing fields and a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) where the charge for the lease is offset by works that have a value to the community.

In their petition, Kingsbridge are implying that the Council could ignore the procurement route and simply choose them. Legally, this is not possible.

I hope this has clarified what is actually happening.

Read the discussion on this on the ReStirred Forum