Playing Pitch Strategy SPD

Ended on the 16th January 2012
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(1) Chapter 1 - Introduction

Purpose of a Playing Pitch Strategy

1.1 The aim of this Playing Pitch Strategy, in light of the revised Sport England Methodology, is to provide a concise and accurate update of the previous Strategy, completed in 2007, which reflects the level of supply and demand within the District. This Strategy will function as a Supplementary Planning Document for the Local Development Framework, providing guidance for playing pitch provision and improvement in the area.

1.2 Under Government guidance, it is recommended that such assessments are thoroughly conducted by Local Authorities in order to effectively provide for the needs of the community through strategic planning policies.

1.3 The necessary increase in the provision of new households in the District up to 2026 and beyond, to provide for the already growing population, will intensify the pressures on land. Thus this assessment will help ensure informed decisions are made on the future supply and distribution of playing pitches.

Defining a Playing Pitch

1.4 A ‘playing pitch’ has been defined within The Town and Country Planning Order 19961 as:

A delineated area which, together with any run off area, is of 0.4 hectares or more, and which is used for association football, American football, rugby, cricket, hockey, lacrosse, rounders, baseball, softball, Australian football, Gaelic football, shinty, hurling, polo or cycle polo.

1.5 The Department of Children, Schools and Families, however, in their most recent publication (The Protection of School Playing Fields and Land for City Academies, Ref: DfE-1017-2004, Annex B, paragraph 13) regarding the provision and protection of playing pitches, define a pitch used for sporting activities as:

Open grassed land that is capable of forming at least a small pitch, which is equal to, or larger than, The Football Association's recommended area for games played by under-10s, that is 2,000m2. It should also have a configuration and topography making it suitable for a sports pitch, whether it is laid out or not, or

Synthetic or artificial playing surface, or dedicated hard games court of more than 2,000m2 that is set out for team games.

1.6 In this assessment, with regard to the guidance examined, the definition used to describe a ‘playing pitch’ will be:

A defined area of free draining open grassland or an artificial surface, which is generally greater than 0.2 hectares and enables the execution of one or more team games.

1.7 Furthermore a ‘playing field’ refers to the whole of a site which encompasses at least one playing pitch (Circular 09/98: Town and Country Planning (playing fields) (England) Direction 1998).

The Current Situation Locally

1.8 It is necessary to analyse the current situation of Rochford District and identify the prominent issues which will have an impact on playing pitches.

1.9 At present, the population within the District is estimated to have exceeded 83,0002, the majority of which are situated around the main urban centres of Rayleigh, Hockley and Rochford. The needs of the projected population, which is expected to reach around 90, 000 by 2029 (see Figure 1.1), is to be met by an increase in housing development within the District.

Figure 1.1 – The projected population increase of the Rochford District up to 2029 Figure 1.1

1.10 The District has a demographic age structure which is typical of an ageing population. In the last 30 years, the proportion of the population aged over 65 has increased whilst the proportion aged under 16 has decreased. This is a trend which is expected to continue. In 2009 it was estimated that 19.31% of the population were 65 years or above, which is higher than the regional and national averages. In contrast, 23.45% were below 19 years of age, which is estimated to be below the county, the regional and national averages (Annual Monitoring Report 08/09).

1.11 The demographic trend of the population in the Rochford District is expected to have an impact on the level of demand for future playing pitch provision. Sport England has established that as people get older, the fewer physical activities they pursue3, with the highest participation rates in the 16 to 19 year-old age group.

1.12 The revised East of England plan encourages the re-use of previously developed land in and around urban areas. Therefore the requirement for local authorities to allocate many of the new homes in the next 20 years around existing urban areas is likely to increase the pressure for development on playing fields and other open spaces. National Policy, however, which is discussed in Chapter 2, strongly opposes the loss or redevelopment of playing fields, unless there is a viable argument.

1.13 According to the National Statistics database, 16.4% of households in the Rochford District, do not have access to a private vehicle thus limiting the level of mobility for some of the population. This figure is below the average for the East of England (19.8%) and England as a whole (26.84%), suggesting that some facilities may not be easily accessible to a significant proportion of the population.

1.14 Unemployment in the Rochford District between Jul 2008 and Jun 2009 was found to be around 4.9%, which is below the regional and national averages of 5.9% and 7% respectively. It has been suggested that there may be a correlation between economic activity, and the propensity to participate in sports.

1.15 Findings in the document Activity Profile: Rochford (July 2007) produced by Sport England, suggest that individuals in a high socio-economic group (NS SEC 1-4 as categorised by the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification ) participate in sporting activities more frequently than those in a lower group (NS SEC 5-8). The proportion of individuals who participate in sport once a week was found to be the same for both groups. More individuals in the lower socio-economic group, however, had a higher incidence of non-participation (58.3%) than those in the higher group (44.2%).

1.16 The factors discussed, such as unemployment rates, population mobility and demographic change, in addition to increasing population pressures, will impact on the provision of playing pitches and their use (in reference to the type and frequency of the sports pursued).

1.17 It has been calculated that in 2005/06 only 6.95% of residents in the District lived within 20 minutes4 of three different sports facilities, a figure which has decreased from 20.6% in 2004/05 due to the removal of a prominent leisure facilities (including three grass playing pitches) ‘quality mark’. The current figure is the 4th lowest in the County and below the Essex average.

1.18 Nearly 20% of residents in the District (regardless of socio-economic status) regularly participate in moderate intensity sport and active recreation, three days a week for 30minutes, according to Sport England5. Rochford is in the middle 50% of the eastern region of England.

1.19 The previous Playing Pitch Strategy, carried out in 2002, concluded that there was sufficient playing pitch provision to satisfy the level of demand within the District, although there was a noted variation in the supply of pitches between the sub-areas. Ancillary facilities and the quality of the playing surface were found to be substandard.

1.20 The Strategy also determined that football was the most popular team sport pursued within the Rochford District. The graph (Figure 1.2) below shows that the percentage of youth football teams based in the District was measured below the national trend between 2006 and 2007.

Figure 1.2 – The percentage of youth teams playing in Rochford at each age Figure 1.2

The Current Situation Nationally

1.21 Research conducted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England published in 20066 suggests that the situation for playing fields and playing pitches in England continues to improve.

1.22 Nationally, the number of submitted planning applications on playing fields increased by almost a quarter between 2000/2001 and 2005/2006 to over 1300 (see Appendix A). Ninety-seven percent of the applications which reached full conclusion either enhanced or had no negative impact on the quality of the sports provision, according to Sport England.

1.23 In 2004/2005, 26 new playing pitches were created in England. These were not built on existing sites, thus increasing the provision for sporting activities.

1.24 Sport England’s ‘Active People Survey’, which was completed in 2006, focuses on the level of participation in sport and recreational activities throughout England. It has divided England into nine different regions. Generally the amount of active participation in the east of England by the adult population is around or above the national average, for example:

  • Over a fifth (20.5%) of the adult population in the eastern region frequently participates in recreational activities. The national average is 21%.

  • The proportion of the adult population involved in sports clubs (26.2%) is above the national average.

  • With reference to local sports, over 70% of adults have satisfactory sports provision in their area.

National Trends in Key Pitch Sports

1.25 Sport England has summarised the significant statistics and trends for a variety of national sports, and identified the implications for future demand for playing pitches. The four most played sports in the District have been included in the table below.

Table 1.1 – Participation in Key Sports

Overall Participation Key facts National and Local Key Trends Implication for Pitches


Over 2 million regular players (adult and youth)

Out of school, football has experienced the biggest growth in ‘frequent’ participation from 37% in 1994 to 43% in 1999.

National: More children are playing due to popularity of mini-soccer (30% increase over last three years).

Local: Mini-soccer has become increasingly popular in the District, but the latent demand is still relatively low compared to other neighbouring Councils.

More mini-soccer-sized pitches needed and therefore more junior pitches in future (due to ripple effect).

Female soccer is now starting to grow nationally at a rapid pace.

National and Local: More women are playing football.

Improved quality of ancillary facilities and in particular dedicated changing facilities.

A 300-400% growth in informal five-a-side football.

National: More midweek fixtures, more non-grass pitches.

Local: Most of the pitches in the District are grass pitches, but there is a trend that more people are interested in playing five-a-side football.

Players defecting to five-a-side, therefore additional floodlit synthetic turf pitches/MUGAs may be required.

The FA forecasts the number of youth players to increase by 10% over next five years.

National: More pitches will be needed.

Local: There is shortage in junior and mini pitches, more of the mini playing pitches will be needed.

The vast number of children playing mini-soccer will result in the need for more junior pitches over next five years.


660,000 regular players (adult and youth)

Kwik cricket – a game devised for children – is played by 1.1 million pupils in 90% of the country’s primary schools. Of these, 434,000 are girls.

National and Local: Increased participation by young people.

More pitches used for kwik cricket and new mobile flicx pitches to be introduced in schools.

The number of women’s clubs increased from 4,200 in 1997 to 7,611 in 2001.

National: Increased participation by women.

Improved access needed to quality training pitches and improved ancillary facilities required in smaller clubs.

Rugby union

Circa 250,000 regular players (adult and youth)

The number of adult males playing rugby has decreased by 12% over last five years.

National: Decline in the men’s game is recognised but many initiatives in place to increase opportunities and promote the sport.

Need to safeguard rugby pitches in anticipation of recovery in participation.

Women’s participation has increased significantly in recent years, from approximately 2,000 players in 1988 to 8,000 in 1998.

National: Increase in participation by women.

Local: There is no increase in women team in the District.

Improved clubhouse facilities and increased access to pitches.

The number of mini teams has increased by 4% over last five years to 5,188.

National and Local: More young children playing rugby.

More dedicated mini-rugby pitches and ‘child-friendly’ changing facilities will be required.


100,000 regular players (adult and youth)

Hockey is one of the top five most popular games in school, although participation declined from 20% in 1994 to 17% in 1999 and the number of children citing it as enjoyable dropped from 13% to 10% over the same period.

National: Slight decline in youth participation. Emphasis is therefore placed on promoting hockey towards young people to secure the future of the game. However, many clubs still do not have access to synthetic turf pitches (STPs).

Local: Hockey is not a popular sport in the District. Slight decline in women’s team is recorded.

Continuing requirement for STPs and improved clubhouse facilities to meet league requirements and to encourage club/team formation.

Grass pitches still an important component of the game.

Issues and Opportunities

1.26 Previously there have been inaccurate and sporadic attempts to quantify the provision of playing pitches for sports in England. Some initiatives have estimated that there were around 70,000 pitches, however, this cannot be confirmed, and without a comprehensive monitoring system of playing pitches in light of threats from development, it is unknown how many of these valuable open spaces may have been lost.

1.27 In recent years there has been a national effort to raise awareness of the importance of playing pitches in enhancing community cohesion, social inclusion and general well-being. The Playing Fields Monitoring Group was launched in April 2000 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to deal with issues affecting pitches. Representatives from stakeholder groups such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the National Playing Fields Association (now Fields in Trust) monitor planning applications and examine the wider concerns regarding playing pitches.

1.28 The original Playing Pitch Strategy, which was developed in 1991 by the National Playing Fields Association (now Fields in Trust), the Sports Council (now Sport England) and the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR), is replaced by the current Playing Pitch Methodology produced by Sport England.

1.29 The Active Places database, which is an initiative of Sport England, was launched in 2004 and provides a current estimate of various sporting facilities in England. Data accuracy is reliant on the quantity and quality of information gathered and submitted by several organisations such as The Leisure Database Company, and as a result it is an ongoing process.

1.30 The Register of English Football Facilities (REFF) is a database commissioned by the Football Foundation in 2001 and backed by several partners including the Football Association and Sport England. The database is being frequently updated. Using this source, preliminary research revealed that there are:

  • Approximately 35 grass and artificial playing fields in Rochford District.

  • 11 of these are on school sites, with a total of 17 playing pitches.

1.31 In 1996, Sport England was designated a statutory consultee on all proposed developments that conform to certain criteria with regards to the protection of playing fields. Any submitted planning applications to Local Authorities, which may result in the loss of playing fields, land that is currently used as a playing field, or has been in the past five years, and land that has been identified in a recent development plan for potential use as a playing field, must be presented to Sport England for consultation.

1.32 Sport England (whose guidance is reviewed in Chapter 2) state that it is their:

‘policy to object to any planning application, which will result in the loss of a playing field, unless it meets one of five exceptions as defined in Planning Policy Statement – A Sporting Future for the Playing Fields of England’7.

1.33 Fields In Trust (FIT), which replaced the National Playing Field Association (NPFA), has provided protection for 1,200 playing fields throughout the UK using a series of flexible options including legally binding Deeds of Dedication, Community Amateur Sports Clubs (CASCs) Status, Custodian Trustee/Freehold Protection and King George V Fields8.

1.34 According to the Fields In Trust’s database of protected fields, the following playing fields in Rochford District have been awarded protection status:

  • Doggetts Close Recreation Ground, Doggetts Close, Rochford (0.5 acres).

  • Rochford Recreation Ground, Stambridge Rd, Rochford (9 acres).

  • Grove Road Playing Field, Grove Road, Rayleigh (7acres).

  • Turret House Farm (Recreation Ground), Hockley Road, Rayleigh (11 acres).

  • Holly Tree Gardens (Public Open Space), Rayleigh (2 acres).

1.35 Locally, the Essex Playing Fields Association (EPFA) is responsible for supporting and advising Parish/Town Councils, community and other groups responsible for maintaining playing fields. The EPFA tries to work closely with national organisations such as Sport England and the Foundation for Sports & Arts.

1.36 The Council owned playing pitches in Rochford District are maintained by an external contractor.

1.37 Active Rochford was established in 2007 under the guidance of Sport Essex to bring together voluntary, public and private stakeholders involved in the development of sport within the District, with the broad objectives of ensuring a more coordinated approach, and encouraging greater participation and access to sport within the local community. Other organisations include the Rochford Sports Council, which is a voluntary body providing advice and support for local sports clubs.

Objectives of Assessment

1.38 The key objectives of this playing pitch strategy are to:

  • Analyse the current balance between the supply and demand of playing pitches within the Rochford District, and the quality of the pitches through the use of the revised Playing Pitch Methodology developed by Sport England (which is explained in detail in Chapter3).

  • Determine the accessibility of each pitch in relation to the surrounding population.

  • Identify areas which require additional investment in order to meet the needs of the local community.

  • Interpret the demand for playing pitches in the Rochford District, both now and in the future.

  • Draw informative conclusions on the futurity of playing pitches in the District.

  • Suggest recommendations for guiding local policies, such as areas requiring improvements and proposals for the provision of new pitches, in line with national and regional guidance (discussed in Chapter 2).

  • The Playing Pitch Strategy SPD will assist in the work of a number of Council departments including planning, leisure, parks, as well as other relevant organisations such as education department in Essex County Council

1 The Office of Public Sector Information. 2 Resident Population Estimates, All Persons available from 3 Participation in Sport in England: 2002. 4 Max walking time (urban areas); Max driving time (rural areas) – Sport England. 5
Table of findings for ‘Number of Sports Playing Fields Continues to Grow’ Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England (October 2006). 6 7 8
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