Trowbridge Town Council’s plans to develop an all-weather pitch and sports facilities have become a big talking point in the town. Here we set out responses from members of the Council’s Doric Park Working Group and the Council Leader to some frequently asked questions.
Why is Trowbridge Town Council planning an all-weather pitch and sports facilities at Doric Park?
Trowbridge has a long-standing shortage of football pitches and training facilities for football and rugby, particularly ones that can be used in all weathers and all year round, i.e., with floodlights. Wiltshire Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy says that the town needs at least one full-size, all-weather pitch. The lack of pitches has led talented players to seek out clubs in neighbouring towns such as Westbury and Bradford on Avon and obliged parents to drive their children as far afield as Chippenham, Devizes, and Calne for training sessions.
In the last decade, the town council has made a top priority of supporting sports, health, and leisure in its strategy. The council has expanded the now 20-strong Active Trowbridge team that offers activities for children and adults. It has built the skatepark at the Stallards Recreation Ground and acquired ground at Woodmarsh to secure the future of Trowbridge Town Football Club. It also owns Lambrok Ground, which is leased to Trowbridge Wanderers.
We are committed to providing more facilities for our community to use and enjoy, in particular for young people. This facility, once built, will not only give our sporting community a much-needed facility but will also provide a venue for meetings and parties and enhance the county town.
How long has the Doric Park pitch been planned?
Nearly a decade. In 2014, the council bought the five-acre Doric Park site next to Trowbridge Rugby Club’s ground in Devizes Road, Hilperton, just outside the town’s boundary, the plan being that the town council would own the facility and rent it out to local clubs and other users. Since then, we have been finding such users and seeking to raise funds to build the pitch and facilities.
What is the plan?
The plan is to build clubhouse sports facilities with classrooms, changing rooms, a strength and conditioning gym, and an all-weather pitch. These additional facilities make Doric Park more flexible and attractive to a variety of clubs and users. In particular, we have a memorandum of understanding with Wiltshire College, which plans to base their sport performance courses at Doric, where students can have access to both classroom facilities and the playing pitch. This agreement initially commits the college to using the facility for three years, but we are confident that this arrangement will continue.
How much will it cost to build, and how will it be funded?
The cost of building the clubhouse, gym, and pitch was set at £4.8 million in May 2022. However, this may increase due to recent high levels of inflation, which have particularly affected the construction industry and building materials. The council applied for a government loan of £3.9 million in May 2022, to be repaid over 50 years at a cost of £225,000 per year. This was approved, but not until July 2023. We have already secured a Football Foundation grant of £488,000 and will also use more than £430,000 from money provided by developers as the contributions they make to the community.
What about finances once the facility is up and running? Will it break even or will it be a liability?
Projections earlier this year showed that over 50 years, the facility should make a profit of around £100,000 per year on average if the college continues to use it at the level agreed for the first three years. If the college usage drops to 50% of the initial level, then we project a loss of around £8,500 per year. However, many other clubs are planning to use the facility, including Trowbridge Town Football Club and Bath Rugby, so there is a good chance that this loss would be compensated for by income from other users.
What progress has been made?
Planning permission was granted by Wiltshire Council in 2021, and a contractor was selected to build the clubhouse in 2022, following a tender process. However, progress has been delayed because the government took over a year to approve the loan. Now that it has been approved, we are moving as quickly as possible. We are now getting updated costs from the contractors for the pitch, club house, and gym, as well as updating the projected income and expenditure over the 50 years of the loan repayment period. We are also going back to all of the users to confirm that they still plan to use the facilities. All necessary legal agreements have been prepared for signing, and other preparatory work has been completed.
Isn’t this facility going to damage the environment?
The facility is aiming to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The council is committed to ensuring that an organic infill is used for the pitch rather than a rubber crumb. The infill and the pitch itself will be recycled when they are replaced. The plans include the installation of solar panels to ensure there is a sustainable energy source. Plans have taken account of the Wiltshire Bat Mitigation Strategy, and planting around the facility will create new habitats and an attractive green space.
What happens next?
We will provide a fully updated set of plans, including the budget for building the facilities and the business plan for 50 years of use, i.e., the income and expenditure for each year. These will be published so that residents can see them and comment on them. Indeed, we will encourage people to tell us what they think. Councillors will then debate the plans and decide whether to go ahead once they have reviewed the updated financial projections and other details.
It has been reported that you are now planning to ask for a larger loan amount. Why?
We will be considering all the options once we have updated costs and projected income. We can then decide if the project is achievable with the current approved loan. At present, we have simply asked the government what the procedure would be should we consider a larger loan. If we need a greater loan amount, it would be considerably smaller than the initial one, basically topping it up to account for inflation.
When will Doric Park be ready to use?
If the project is approved, then we plan for it to be ready by September 2025.
Isn’t this all too big a risk?
We don’t believe so, but it will be for all councillors to decide if they think the project should go ahead. There is, of course, an element of risk in any enterprise that depends on its income from attracting customers. However, we believe that the risk is low because demand for an all-weather pitch in Trowbridge is very high. Already, 85% of bookable term time slots at the facility have been reserved by users, including Wiltshire College, local football clubs, Bath Rugby, ‘Turn Up and Play’ community sessions, disability football, and walking football. The spare capacity is available for one-off, short-term, and long-term bookings.
We expect additional community payments from developers to come in over the next few years as more homes are built. More homes will also mean more council tax revenue received by the council. So we expect to have enough money to support the project. Ultimately, if income fell sharply, the council could consider options, including adjusting its budget to cut back on other expenditures. However, we believe that is very much a worst-case scenario and not one that should dictate our planning. Feedback from the local sporting community suggests that it is much more likely that the facility will be well-used and financially viable.
What are the next steps?
We will consider the updated costs very carefully, and we are fully prepared to shelve the project if we judge that it will be imprudent and disappointing, though that would be for Trowbridge’s sporting community. However, we hope that the new projections will be such that we can make a judgement that the investment is possible.
We will not be irresponsible in our use of taxpayers’ money and government loan. But on the other hand, we will not allow an overly cautious approach to stop us from creating a resource that will provide sporting opportunities for thousands of Trowbridge residents, particularly young people, for many decades to come. This will be a facility that is worthy of our county town, and we very much hope we can go ahead with it.
Councillor Mel Jacob (Chair, Working Group)
Councillor Stewart Palmen (Leader, Trowbridge Town Council)
Councillor Stephen Cooper
Councillor David Vigar