Councillors have warned that youth and sports groups are complaining they can’t afford a new price hike to hire local playing pitches.
Calls for a price freeze failed after officials confirmed that the Council had already given the go ahead for the revised fees.
SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney raised the matter at the Full Council’s monthly meeting on Thursday. He said he had been contacted by several groups who were very concerned that the hire fee was rising from £25 to £33.75 an hour as of April 1, with similar price differentials for use of a half pitch.
Colr. Tierney said: “These groups play a vital role within our community. Not only are they there for young people, they are mentoring services, and they are teaching them all the different skills which will carry on into adult life.”
Colr. Tierney said that some families with several children accessing pitches could be hit with a £6 or £7 a week increase in costs and that, come winter, the fees will rise further to £42.50 per hour. “I think that’s too high,” he said. “The officer’s recommendation was to bring this in line with other Councils across the north, but given the deprivation levels within this council area I don’t believe we are comparing like with like.”
Colr. Tierney proposed a price freeze be implemented with immediate effect.
Seconding this, SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack said that she too has been contacted by various local groups “who are feeling the pinch and whose members are feeling the pinch”.
“A few pounds here and there could cost our city and district a lot more in the long run,” Colr. Cusack said.
Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly agreed, and said another issue brought to his attention was the lack of pitch hire during the day.
“A lot of people who are unemployed say they can’t afford the price,” he said.
Sinn Fein Councillor Tony Hassan said he too has been contacted over the issue, while his party colleague Christopher Jackson said a new Junior Rate should mitigate against the higher costs for young people.
Council Chief Executive John Kelpie said: “A decision by council has been taken in respect of new pricing and what is being proposed is a rescinding motion.”
After consultation with City Solicitor Philip Kingston, it was established that Colr. Tierney’s motion could not be taken at this point, and the fee increase would have to go ahead. However a report is to be brought back before the Council’s Health and Community Committee looking at the new pricing policy and its ramifications.