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Plans submitted for artificial pitch at Winters Park

Date: Tuesday 14th February 2017

A PLANNING application has been submitted for an artificial grass pitch (AGP) and floodlights at Penrith Rugby Club’s Winters Park ground, a meeting of club officials, players and supporters heard.

However, the club still has to review a Rugby Football Union (RFU) lease agreement and facilities management document before calling a meeting at which a vote will be taken on whether to go ahead with the plan.

The club has been judged a viable site for an AGP following an assessment carried out by the RFU, which recently announced its intention to invest in 100 AGPs across England over the next four years as part of its Rugby World Cup legacy.

The RFU’s ambition is to maximise playing opportunities across the country by offering high quality multi-weather playing surfaces to clubs and communities which are experiencing growing demand on their natural turf pitches resulting in overuse, and where there is high growth potential.

Speaking at the meeting, Alex Bowden, RFU area facilities manager for Cumbria, the North East and Yorkshire, said the objectives of AGPs are to increase match and training capacity in areas where turf pitches are significantly overused; improve the quality and consistency of training provision across the country; and broaden rugby’s reach, creating a World Cup legacy.

One hundred pitches are set to be built across the country over the next four years, 60 of which will be fully funded by the RFU (including Penrith).

Mr. Bowden said the pitches need to be resurfaced approximately every 10 to 14 years at a cost of around £200,000, which will be funded by the RFU, as will floodlights and any other associated work.

Once the club has chosen its 12 hours, other rugby union clubs, plus schools and colleges, would have the choice of the next 14 hours. The RFU would then market the remaining hours to other commercial users. The club could book extra hours, but at a cost.

Penrith was the only Cumbria club considered for an AGP based on the impact it would have on rugby for the county and the fact that the site is a good one on which to put an artificial pitch.

After 30 years, the pitch would move into the ownership of Penrith Rugby Club who would maintain and manage it, with initial help from the RFU.

After outlining the pros and cons from the club’s point of view, club chairman Geoff Matthews said there was a “significant lease” to look at and agree, plus a facilities management agreement.

In the meantime, the club can try out the AGP which has just been opened at the Preston Grasshoppers club. In fact, the second team will play on that pitch today against Clitheroe.

Should the club decide to go ahead and planning permission is gained, the RFU would hope to start work on the pitch in July and have it ready for the new season in September.

The present first team pitch would be completely dug up and replaced, with all fencing replaced round the pitch. It would be fully floodlit and there would be a decontamination barrier between it and the second and third team grass pitches.

Asked about recent health scares surrounding AGPs in Holland and America, Mr. Bowden said the rubber used in the UK was tested against stringent chemical and toy standards and a trail could be followed showing exactly where the rubber comes from.

The first three AGPs are up and running at Preston, Aylesbury and Weston-Super-Mare.

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