SPORTS clubs across the capital fear the final whistle could be blown on their future if council plans to charge Edinburgh Leisure for ground maintenance services are given the go ahead as part of new budget proposals.
The authority currently maintains football, rugby, cricket and other pitches across the city for the arm’s-length company at no additional cost.
However the cash-strapped administration is planning to slash Edinburgh Leisure’s funding by as much as £420,000 and aims to raise a further £375,000 by charging it for the upkeep of both indoor and outdoor facilities.
But club chiefs have called for the plans to be booted into touch as they expressed concern over the prospect of increased hire charges and playing fields being sold off as Edinburgh Leisure looks to offset the extra expenditure.
Under the new plans, the company would have to pay a premium to ensure markings are painted on pitches and grass is cut to an acceptable length by the local authority.
Indoor facilities would also be affected as Edinburgh Leisure would be required to foot the bill to carry out routine repairs at leisure centre’s across the city.
The head of a leading youth football club admitted one of their teams had played its last game less than three months into the season due to a lack of available facilities.
Tam Smith, club leader of Hutchison Vale, said a lack of space at Ford Road had already forced the boy’s under-14s Hornets to fold.
The club – famous for launching the careers of several Scottish internationals including the likes of former Hibs stars John Collins, Leigh Griffiths and Kenny Miller – said they had “no option” but to cancel fixtures for the foreseeable future due to concerns over pitch availability.
The Evening News revealed in June that as many as 76 football pitches have been lost to either council closure, housing developments or redesignation since 2000.
Mr Smith said: “It was sad for the Hornets to have to fold like that, but in the end it wasn’t fair to them to have so few facilities.
“It was easier to run the club in 1986, when I first got involved, than it is to keep everything operating at an acceptable level now.”
He added: “The current council service is not particularly good anyway, so I can’t see there being any kind of upgrade in terms of the quality of pitch we have to play on.
“Up at Saughton Enclosure, Tynecastle Boys Club and Hutchison Vale have really taken into their own hands, just because the council were so inconsistent in cutting the grass or marking the pitches.”
Grant Hutchison, vice-president of Broughton Rugby Club, said the extra charges would make it “harder to make ends meet” for the club.
He admitted they had already been forced to relocate team training to the artificial surface at Craigroyston High School because pitch upkeep at Wardie “was not good enough”.
Mr Hutchison continued: “Most rugby clubs are living hand to mouth as it is and this continued steady rise is only going to make it more difficult.”
He added: “I don’t necessarily think this will lead to clubs folding, but what I think we will see is an amalgamation or sharing of facilities, which is already happening.”
“You look at Arboretum, Inverleith have opened their pitches up to Edinburgh Academicals, I suspect that kind of arrangement is likely to happen.”
David Armstrong, secretary of Drummond Trinity Cricket Club – based at Inverleith Park – called on the council to make clear what facilities might be affected.
He said: “Part of the problem is just the complete lack of information that we have been given over what playing fields are going to be affected. How are clubs meant to plan for their future when they don’t know where it is going to be?”
“As a club, we are able to live within our means, but others might not be so lucky.”
He continued: “In terms of pitch upkeep, the guys at Edinburgh Leisure are working extremely hard on a very small budget, they often have to cut dozens of pitches across the city in a relatively short timescale. I have sympathy with them, because we know how stretched they are, it would be a shame to see their budget cut further.”
In the run-up to the 2015-16 budget, Edinburgh Leisure chiefs warned that swimming pools and sports venues could close because of budget cuts, but the council insisted there would be no closures.
It was said at the time that, apart from flagship venues such as the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Meadowbank and the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, almost no pool or sports centre was safe.
Among the venues thought to be under threat were the leisure centres at Ainslie Park and Gracemount and Dalry Swimming Pool.
A spokeswoman for Inverleith Amateur Swimming Club, based at the Leith Victoria pool, criticised Edinburgh Leisure’s “monopoly” on facilities, adding: “Increased charges and a lack of available facilities for all sports will only hit ordinary families harder.”
“Clubs will find a way to survive, but there will be less participation among those from lower income backgrounds.”