SCHOOLS are to be put at the heart of Capital communities under plans to make it easier for the public to access facilities.
Education and leisure chiefs will launch an online booking system, which will see high school doors flung open for activities ranging from football to drama.
Testing is set to begin as early as next month, with an online payment pilot for public access to 3G pitches, sports halls and fitness suites set to get under way in April.
The first bookings on the system will be made in time for the new term in September next year.
Cash-pressed city bosses are keen to boost access to school sports and other venues as they battle to reduce bulging wastelines amid mounting evidence of an obesity time bomb.
And with sports fans shelling out up to £75 for hourly hire of an artificial football pitch, they said revised charges aimed at maximising affordability for the city’s poorest and most disadvantaged districts were also being trialled.
The move has been welcomed by sports leaders who already use schools for coaching and training.
But alongside calls to maintain tight controls on prices, there were warnings that better access to schools should not come at the expense of sustained spending on leisure centres.
Les Trotter, assistant club secretary at Hutchison Vale Football Club, said: “Lots of schools in the city have excellent facilities now – we actually use some of them – so this idea is a godsend. But the prices can be extortionate. I don’t think they spend enough on sports facilities in the city. There needs to be improvement there – there’s no two ways about it. Sports investment in Edinburgh has to be a priority.”
Moves to create an online booking and payment system for the whole city come as individual secondary schools implement ambitious plans to open up their facilities to neighbourhoods across the Capital.
Gracemount High is available for hire in the evenings and on Saturdays, and is now piloting an extension of this to Sundays.
At the Royal High, eight local sports clubs have gained Sunday access to the school for around 700 people after joining to meet the £1200 cost of janitorial cover.
Education chiefs hailed news of progress on a new bookings system for the city and said it would make a “dramatic difference”.
Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “We know that some people will always prefer to do things in a tried and tested way but we also feel that a new approach will be more efficient and effective, and improve the experience for our learners and customers.
“Using an online booking system will also mean a more effective and efficient system and allow us to identify where there might be gaps in provision so we can meet the community’s needs.”