Embarrassed by the state of Penicuik football pitch

Tuesday November 17th 2020


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

The failure to act on a football pitch which has seen children injured has left one councillor “embarrassed and ashamed”, a meeting of Midlothian Council has heard.

The astroturf pitch in Penicuik, which is used by Penicuik Athletic Youth Club, was described to the meeting as “concrete with a bit of astro on it” by Councillor Debbi McCall.

She brought a motion to councillors calling for immediate action to re-carpet the 12-year-old pitch after reports of a child suffering a serious head injury at the site.

The virtual meeting of Midlothian Council was told that the head wound, which required six stitches, was caused by the youngster going through a hole in the fence around the pitch, rather than falling on the hard surface.

However, Councillor McCall told the meeting that if the promised work to re-carpet the pitch, which was approved by councillors last year, had gone ahead then the fence would also have been replaced as part of the refurbishment.

And she referred to other incidents on the pitch when youngsters had fallen and been injured on the pitch, which was described as no longer fit for purpose.

She said: “I am at a loss, I am embarrassed and ashamed to be a councillor in Midlothian Council where we seem to be unable to meet his commitment.”

And she criticised the use of the pandemic as a reason for delays in the work being carried out, adding: “I’m sick of hearing about Covid. Our neighbours in Edinburgh have managed to replace four astroturf pitches since lockdown and we cannot manage one.”

Last year, councillors pledged to put the pitch on this year’s capital funds programme for consideration after a petition with more than 800 signatures was presented to them.

Tony Begg, manager of Penicuik Athletic, told councillors then that the pitch, which is used by its youth club, needed urgent work.

The campaign to have the work, estimated at about £250,000, carried out was backed by Scotland international Claire Emslie, who grew up playing there, as well as local politicians, Police Scotland and the town’s medical centre.

Mr Begg revealed that the adult teams at the club no longer played on what had been their training grounds because they had “lost confidence” in the surface.

He told a meeting of Midlothian Council’s petitions committee in March last year: “The pitch is done.”

He said: “There are 350 players under the age of 18 from our town. A £250,000 investment over eight years is £89 per year for each of these children and equates to 24 pence a day.

“I am asking if you are prepared to invest 24p per day in the children of Penicuik to keep them healthy and active.”

The committee agreed to pass the petition to its director of resources to look at funding again and report back to council before it breaks for recess in June.

They also said it would be included in this year’s capital budget as a proposal.

Despite the pledges, no action has been taken.

Councillor Andrew Hardie, who seconded Councillor McCall’s motion, said: “This is something that is an embarrassment for our communities. Covid is not an excuse, this is something that has been budgeted for.”

Councillor Derek Milligan, council leader, agreed that the work needed to be done but said he could not support criticism of council staff, adding “Covid has made things difficult”.

He said: “I would have expected the work to be carried out over the summer in normal times but a lot of officers involved in this would have been dealing with Covid issues, we need to be fair in our criticism.”

Kevin Anderson, executive director, told councillors: “The injury to this child is regrettable. The work has been costed but did not move forward and that was in part due to Covid.”

He added that when services resumed after lockdown, schools and housing became a priority.

Mr Anderson told councillors that a “programme of works” could be in place to progress action at the pitch by the end of the week.

A report to the council meeting later on the agenda included Penicuik astroturf as part of an action plan for the coming year.

Councillors unanimously approved the motion for immediate action to bring it forward.

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