Football needs a kick-start in March

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MARCH desperately needs decent sporting facilities if more people are to participate in football in the town.

But just where those facilities will be provided is open to question as Fenland Council leader Alan Melton admits he has no idea where they could go.

A damning report produced following a review of football facilities and participation levels in and around March commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council and the county’s Football Association has highlighted the dire lack of provision in the town.

The report, published last month, revealed that football participation levels in March are operating at just 54 per cent of levels seen elsewhere in Fenland and that 46 per cent of those wanting to play football are not doing so.

Tielo Pearce, local football coach and player who brought about the review by putting pressure on via the “Shape your Place” website, said the report just reaffirms what most teams already know and offers no real solution to the deficiency.

He said local teams focus on their own needs and should start working together to put pressure on the various local authorities to get some action and also to try to get Estover Playing Field as a permanent sporting venue for March.

The field, which is run by the Estover Playing Field Association, has suffered because of the county council’s reluctance to sign a long-term lease which would enable the association to access lottery and other charitable funding to improve facilities on the site.

The county council, which owns the field, has earmarked it for sale for future housing and Fenland’s Core Strategy review has also included the field along with around 80 acres adjoining it for future residential development.

But Mr Pearce believes the field could be one of the few sites in the town big enough to provide the much needed sporting facilities.

Mr Melton said Fenland’s Core Strategy, which is currently out for consultation, does make provision for sporting facilities as part of future development including a requirement for Section 106 funding (cash provided by developers for community needs).

However, there is no specifics included in the strategy stating exactly what that provision should be and Mr Melton admitted he had “no idea where the facilities would go”.

But he said: “We are formulating a future leisure strategy for Fenland and for March in particular.”

The review said: “Research with local people, clubs and organisations suggestions the main factors influencing this situation are the lack of sport and football facilities and the general poor quality of some of the facilities that are available.”

There are 17 clubs in the March area affiliated to Cambs FA, with 18 senior teams, 21 youth teams and nine mini-soccer sides, most have managed to sustain their teams but three clubs have lost sides due to “a lack of facilities”.

Clubs in the area use 16 different grounds for their fixtures and training and the report also revealed that many of the current facilities are not fit for purpose with Estover Playing Field highlighted as “an area for concern”.

The report concluded March will need more football pitches to cope with a rising population and said the North East March Growth Area, which includes Estover Playing Fields, would be an “ideal location to create a sporting hub for the community.”