Claire Fallon explains why housing development is driving a partnership approach to strategic thinking for sport and leisure.
KKP’s current portfolio includes numerous projects that incorporate cross-over between several aspects of strategic review. While the production of playing pitch strategies and indoor and built sport facility strategies are quite distinct in terms of tools, techniques and approaches, it is not surprising that strategic thinking with regard to one impacts upon the other. Start evaluating where your pitches are and where they might need to be, and it is not too many steps before the links with other facilities, other sports and other communities appear on the whiteboard.
This combination of strategies has become an increasingly common feature of KKP’s caseload over recent years. So too has joint commissioning by local authorities. An increasing number of projects now involve client groups comprising separate councils that come together to look strategically at the sport and leisure services that serve users and communities on both sides of council boundaries.
Most local authorities have long acknowledged that many users of their sport and leisure facilities have little understanding of, or interest in, which authority might provide and manage the specific facility they play in. It is also increasingly recognised that duplication of facilities in close geographic proximity on either side of an authority boundary is a luxury that is difficult to afford, justify or defend. At KKP we are increasingly finding that acceptance and recognition of reality is translating into practical partnerships and the co-commissioning of strategic planning.
A recently completed project on behalf of three authorities in South Worcestershire (Malvern Hills, Worcester City and Wychavon Districts) is a case in point. Working closely together via a project steering group, they commissioned KKP to produce a playing pitch strategy and an indoor and built sports facility strategy for each council area. The result was a coherent, comprehensive picture of the future of the wider area’s provision, one in which the local authority boundaries are only lightly drawn.
It has proved enlightening for the councils involved and, like much of our planning work, had housing growth as a key driver. This will create expanded or, in some cases, new communities, with new demands and increased pressures on facilities, services and transport. Developer contributions are key sources of funding that can be optimised via such cross-boundary collaboration.
In South Worcestershire the authorities were brought together by residential expansion and cross-boundary housing developments but all three were keen to ‘lean in’ to find the best options and opportunities for various facilities, including the right balance of 3G and artificial grass pitches for football and hockey.
The emerging South Worcestershire Development Plan Review (SWDPR) is also driving discussion of options for indoor facilities. While all key population centres within the area of the plan currently have adequate provision, projected population increases point to a requirement for a new leisure centre at the Worcestershire Parkway development in Wychavon District. However, the proposed strategic growth areas will require analysis and consideration of a range of facilities, including Pershore Leisure Centre, Perdiswell Leisure Centre in Worcester and Worcester Citizens Swimming Bath. The new strategic growth areas will create new demand and the northern edge of Worcestershire Parkway covered by the SWDPR is close to the city of Worcester, creating potential demand from adjacent catchment areas that lie within a 20-minute journey time.
Across the UK demand for housing is creating persuasive reasons for local authorities to work together to better shape development and to make the best of wider opportunities to improve and extend sport, leisure and cultural facilities for the whole community. However, with the need for openness and trust, genuinely collaborative partnerships can take time to create and develop. The South Worcestershire partnership was up and running quickly but some authorities accustomed to working solely within their own boundaries can be slow to arrive at the partnership table. Our experience is that such difficulties can usually be overcome once the scale and value created by shared opportunities become apparent.
Cross-boundary partnerships reflect the growing recognition that individual authorities cannot – and need not – meet every expectation of each resident, particularly in the realm of non-statutory services. Having a state-of-the-art 3G pitch is an asset but there is little point having one either side of a road that marks a council boundary.
In the Black Country KKP is working with a partnership of four local authorities with housing development again a key driver of collaboration. This area includes major population centres – Walsall, Wolverhampton and Sandwell – raising the prospect of new or improved facilities bringing significant benefit to a large number of people. Larger-scale projects also makes engaging the local and regional structures of national governing bodies of sport in potential projects that much easier.
This project is well under way and has involved the KKP team in several hundred site visits to ensure the accuracy and validity of the data required. Our approach to facility strategies means that no stone is left unturned and no site left unvisited as we build a comprehensive, detailed picture of existing facilities, including how they are rated and used.
At the ‘just starting’ end of the KKP project timescale spectrum is a commission with Colchester and Tendring councils. Plans for a new garden suburb of some 7,000 homes has fostered a partnership between the two authorities and KKP is working on extensive facility and open space strategies that will reflect the likely impact of such large-scale development.
Our work with Buckinghamshire Council is a single-authority project but its status as a new unitary authority bringing together four former districts means that many of the principles of partnership still apply. Housing development is on the agenda, as is the impact of HS2, but this process is also about this new administration looking to fully understand the area within its new boundaries and consider in full the implications of a unitary approach. The success of the recently completed indoor and built facilities strategy for the County has led to conversations with regard to Bucks taking a comparable strategic approach to its other sports, open spaces and community facilities and services.
Cross-boundary working opens a range of possibilities but increasing the size of an area does increase the scale of the project: more facilities, more people, clubs and organisations to engage, more ground to cover. At KKP we are fortunate to have multi-disciplinary capability in house and we operate at a scale which allows us to take on the largest projects. This means that we are well-positioned to manage and support the most significant and complex assignments and get involved with some really interesting schemes. Along the way it builds experience, develops skills and challenges us all to reach and maintain the highest standards.
Clare Fallon is a director and principal consultant with KKP.