Birchwood Sports Project: FAQ

HertsFAHTC

We understand that people may have questions and concerns about the Sports Project at Birchwood. This page is designed to provide further information and address some of the more common quieries that local residents may have.

This page will be monitored and updated as and when required, in order to keep everyone informed. Your feedback and suggestions are important to us as we strive to create a project that benefits the community and addresses any potential issues.

We appreciate your support as we undertake this exciting project! For more information on what we’re including, please refer to the Birchwood Sports Project page.

Impact on Hatfield Council Tax Payers

Will taxes go up to pay for this?

No. Whilst Hatfield Town Council may choose to allocate part of its budget to improve the facilities at Birchwood Leisure Centre and the rest of the site, this project will be funded by external contributions. This is new, additional investment for the people of Hatfield.

How will this be paid for?

£1million is being provided by the Hatfield Community Sport Fund Board, with specific grass improvement funding provided by the Football Foundation which supports grassroots football.  Further grant funding will be applied for to pay for additional facility improvements.

What if the new facilities fail to make enough money? Isn’t there a risk that Hatfield residents are left with an expensive white elephant?

Research and studies undertaken by the relevant authorities show a need for an additional full sized 3G football pitch in the area.

View the study here.

We are therefore confident the facility will be used and generate sufficient funds to pay for its operation, its relaying in approx. 10 years and make a positive contribution to the Town Council accounts.

Will this leave Hatfield Town Council in lots of debt?

No. Because this project is being funded using grants Hatfield Town Council does not need to take out any loans or  go into debt to pay for it. Hatfield residents are therefore not at risk like other residents in other council where investment projects have been paid for using loans and debt financing. Therefore even in the very unlikely event the facility is never used, there would be no financial penalty for Hatfield Town Council and its residents.

Whose idea was this?

Who was involved in this decision?

The proposal was put together by Hatfield Town Council and was adopted at their full council meeting in September 2023.

The proposal was submitted to the Hatfield Community Sports Fund Board and Football Foundation, after receiving an endorsement from Herts FA.

The Football Foundation agreed to provide funding to upgrade the grass pitches at Birchwood, alongside a maintenance programme agreed to by Hatfield Town Council. This will be worth £44,000 over 6 years

Hatfield Community Sports Fund Board has agreed to provide a grant of £1million to build new and improve existing facilities at Birchwood, having concluded that the project met the area’s strategic goals and the Board’s funding criteria.

Further funding is also be sought from other funding partners to make the most of this opportunity.

Who is leading this project?

In May 2023 a new Town Council was elected, and under the leadership of Cllr Larry Crofton a new project group worked to develop a successful proposal to secure the available funding for Hatfield residents. Going forward Cllr Crofton will continue to lead the project’s development with relevant officers and external partners.

What about public consultation?

Hatfield Town Council undertook a public consultation in Spring 2022. The results indicated a split preference for a 3G facility and a grass facility, as well as sizable support for additional sports to be accommodated. The Birchwood Community Project has taken this on board and envisages 6 grass pitches retained and over a number of years upgraded; an improved astro turf multi-use games area which can accommodate Netball, Tennis and Hockey; and a brand new, full sized 3G football pitch and all-weather outdoor basketball court.

Now that the outline proposal has secured the funding, the project team will look to engage users, potential users, local residents and other key stakeholders to help develop specific design aspects of the project.

Who will be allowed to use these new facilities?

Everyone. Hatfield Town Council prides itself in being an inclusive sports and recreational facility provider.  Hire prices for the grass pitches, 3G pitch and multi-use games area will be set to ensure the facilities are accessible to the community, whilst the proposed outdoor, all weather basketball court and adult gym equipment, will be free to use.

When will this project be delivered?

Given the need to consult, procure contractors and obtain planning permission the final project is unlikely to be delivered in its entirety until September 2025.

Impact on local residents, dog walkers, and biodiversity

What about planning permission?

Planning permission will be needed for the additional car parking spaces, fencing and lights. However given local favourable attitudes to increased car parking at the Leisure Centre (to ease weekend congestion in neighbouring roads and estates) and for the path across the site to be lit, we believe local residents will be supportive of the proposed plan.

What about light pollution from the floodlights?

The Birchwood site already has floodlights for its astroturf court, and the addition of flood lights for the new 3G and any grass pitches will be done with consideration for local residents. The current flood lights are used alongside the operating hours of the Birchwood Leisure Centre (up to 10pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and 5pm on Sundays) and only when the facility is being hired.

However we have received a request from local residents to use this opportunity to light the path across the site towards Tesco. This could provide a well-lit path for all residents between dusk until the shops close (midnight on weekdays and Saturdays and 4pm on Sundays). We will investigate this further with local residents, shops at the retail park, the neighborhood police team and with consideration of the likely costs involved (both installation and operation).

Will I still be able to walk my dog at Birchwood?

Yes. We are carefully considering the needs of sport teams and dog walkers, and believe both can be accommodated on site.  The project is likely to see the introduction of fencing to protect different improved services (both grass and 3G) and the dogs themselves. However care will be taken to ensure a circulate route around the whole site is retained for dog walkers, runners and walkers.

What about the impact on biodiversity?

The estates team at Birchwood have recognized that the traditional upkeep of the site was not doing enough to promote biodiversity. The constant cutting, marking and treatment of the football pitches was not doing anything for the local wildlife.

In response the team introduced an Alternative Land Management trial which has seen areas of the site left to grow and become home to a diverse range of wildlife. The proposal seeks to extend this area to compensate for the sport pitches and courts (grass pitches, 3G pitch, basketball court and mutli-use games area). More information on our Alternative Land Management strategy can be found here.

More environmental options for extending the car park are also being considered.

Is there a problem with using a 3G pitch?

Is 3G safe to play on? What are the environmental impacts of installing a 3G pitch?

Hatfield Town Council has taken its lead from the relevant authorities and their experts. A joint statement by key stakeholders (Department for Culture, Media and Sports, Sport England, Sport Scotland, Sport Wales, the Ground Maintenance Association, Football Foundation, The Football Association, Rugby Football League, Sports And Play Construction Association and England Rugby) was released in April 2023 and can be found here, along with a frequency asked questions document.

The statement begins: “Artificial grass pitches (AGPs) are recognised as a durable, safe, year-round playing surfaces, able to withstand intensive use and all kinds of weather. The pitches are used for playing multiple sports including football, hockey and rugby and they are an important community resource that mean more people can benefit from the social and health benefits of physical activity.”

Do the FA allow 3G pitches to be used?

The FA Board and Council have now approved the use of 3G pitches in all FA competitions.  Fors Steps 3 – 6 of the National League System, Womens Super League and FA competitions, matches may be played on 3G Football Turf Pitches that conform to the FIFA 1 star/Quality performance standard. For matches played at Step 7 and below (including youth competitions) 3G Football Turf pitches can be used.

We will be advised on what surface is advisable for teams in the area. And there will remain the grass pitches for those clubs that progress above Step 7 should the 3G pitch not meet FIFA 1 star/Quality performance standard.

What about previous promises of a football ground and stadium?

Weren’t we supposed to get a stadium? Isn’t the money earmarked to replace the ground that was located at Angerland?

In 2006 the University of Hertfordshire entered a planning (section 106) agreement with Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council to replace sport pitches and facilities previously located at Angerland Common as part of the conditions of establishing the Park and Ride facility.

Whilst many groups have wanted to establish a new football ground/stadium for senior men’s football, the funding available was and remains insufficient to build a new stadium. In fact, a privately limited company called “Sport Hatfield” joined with the University of Hertfordshire and gained planning permission in 2005 to build new facilities in South Hatfield. However, the project was never implemented as the required funds could not be found.

In 2016 the planning (section 106) agreement between the University and Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council was revised, and the University was now required to contribute £1.4 million to the Hatfield Community Sports Fund, to be spent on new sport facilities in the area.

Example of project that could be funded included:

  • Projects involving construction of new facilities, for example a new Astroturf Pitch or the building or a new changing room
  • Significant development/improvement of existing facilities
  • Fixed items of equipment (e.g. goals, nets, fencing)

Any major football project would also need the endorsement of Hertfordshire FA.

Where have previous football ground proposals got to? Why haven’t Hatfield Town Council made a proposal to build a football ground?

In 2005 a privately limited company called “Sport Hatfield” ” joined with the University of Hertfordshire and gained planning permission  in 2005 to build new football and cricket facilities at Angerland (just south of the proposed Park and Ride). However the group were unable to secure the necessary funding and the project was not progressed.

Since then several other attempts were made for projects across Hatfield, but they failed to get the required backing from the governing sports bodies or the Hatfield Community Sports Fund Board. During this time proposals were presented to and considered by Hatfield Town Council.

In April 2023 the then leader of Hatfield Town Council did make a proposal to the Hatfield Community Sports Fund Board for a  separate football ground at Birchwood, which would have focused on a premium grass pitch and would have included fencing, floodlights, a spectator stand and shipping containers used for new changing rooms, a club house and toilets.  The proposal failed to get the endorsement of the Board or Herts FA, and was not adopted by the Town Council itself.

Does this prevent a proper non-league football ground being developed in the future?

No. Clubs across Hatfield still have the opportunity to secure land and raise/apply for funds themselves from other organisations and funding bodies. And Hatfield Town Council remains keen to work with clubs who have ambition and robust development plans. However, as a community focused town council our first duty is to ensure our facilities serve the widest spectrum of the community and not just senior men’s football.

The proposed development of Birchwood Leisure Centre in the coming years may also provide another opportunity to develop the football facilities further.

Will this prevent senior men’s football from developing in Hatfield. Will this prevent Hatfield men’s teams progressing up the leagues?

The objective of Hatfield Town Council is to provide sport facilities for the whole community. We therefore seek to provide football pitches for a range of ages and abilities. This currently includes 20 senior men’s sides, as well as a number of youth and female teams, across our facilities.

Should a senior men’s side progress to a football level which requires enhanced facilities we will work with them to accommodate those requirements as far as budgets and logistics allow. Whilst we would love to provide a firm commitment to ambitious teams, in the current economic climate we cannot commit to writing a blank cheque on behalf of Hatfield council tax payers.

Could the money be used for other things?

Why can’t we use the money for other things (such as funding NHS services, social housing, play parks)?

The money is specifically designated to fund new sports facilities in Hatfield and cannot be used to fund other services. This should be seen as complimentary to services provided by the NHS, Hertfordshire County Council, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

However its important to remember the critical role sport facilities can play in helping residents live a healthy life. Countless studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of regular excise and partaking in team sports. As a community focused Council, we are determined to ensure the new facilities allow even more members of the community to access sport sessions at Birchwood. We already host inclusive  sessions, catering for those with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, mobility issues and those who feel excluded from mainstream commercial facilities due to their age, financial situation or abilities.