Belfast City Council snubs Glentoran Football Club ending “preferential” use of public pitch

Belfast City Council has snubbed Glentoran Football Club and ended its “preferential” use of Blanchflower stadium.

Elected representatives at a City Hall committee this week unanimously agreed to end a preferential use agreement with Glentoran Football Club at Blanchflower Playing Fields, to be replaced by a model allowing 11 community football clubs as well as Glentoran equal access to the pitch.

There was a strained atmosphere at the council’s People and Communities Committee as the Alliance Party appeared to wish to delay the decision for Glentoran Football to address the committee at a future date on the matter. None of the other parties agreed with this, and the request for a deputation by Glentoran was refused.

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Alliance further proposed a workshop looking at data collection from Glentoran and other teams. This again was rejected by the other parties, after a council official said all the relevant data had been gathered already.

The two-year preferential use agreement with Glentoran Football Club for the use of the second synthetic pitch at Blanchflower Playing Fields expired on December 1 2023.

A council report states: “Outside the time slots allocated to Glentoran the facility is very popular and continues to be fully booked from 6pm to 10pm Monday to Thursday by a wide range of youth and senior teams. On Friday evenings along with Saturday mornings and on Sunday the pitch is booked by South Belfast Youth League.

“The council has been approached by several local, community based clubs who are unable to gain access to the pitch. There are a number of options for the council to consider regarding the future booking arrangements for this pitch.”

The three options before elected representatives were firstly to renew the preferential use agreement with Glentoran Football Club, secondly to process all pitch bookings on a first-come, first-served basis, or thirdly to work with local community based football clubs to develop an allocation model so that they all get access to the pitch on Monday to Thursday evenings.

Council officers recommended option three.

However at the committee meeting this week, Alliance Councillor Jenna Maghie proposed that a request by Glentoran Football to address the committee should be approved before a final decision was made.

Councillor Maghie said: “They (Glentoran Football) feel their case wasn’t put through particularly well.”

She said: “The report makes it sound like it is the football club using the pitch, and when you think about Glentoran you think about the men’s football club playing semi-professional football etcetera. In reality, it is their academy and their women’s team who use it - quite a lot.

“I think it would be useful for those of us who haven’t heard this, to hear it. I am happy to propose we have an opportunity to engage with the club.

“It is important we remember it is not just the men’s team who use the pitch.”

DUP Councillor Niicola Verner said: “I won’t pretend I know something about football, and I don’t really know about East (Belfast) either, but I know about fairness.

"I think whenever we are putting it forward that we come to an agreement on fairness and equity that there would have to be others that come in to present as well. So that we can hear what it means to them to have fair usage.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Micheal Donnelly said: “Option three allows all local clubs and the likes of Glentoran to come in and be part of that conversation. That is the fairest model, instead of just bringing Glentoran in. Not everyone is going to get what they want. Provision is causing difficulty across all of the city.”

He added: “The provision of first-come first-serve doesn’t work.” He requested a new officer report looking at pitch allocation models across the city.

A council officer told the committee: “The work we are doing on the pitches strategy will also look at the booking system in terms of pitch utilisation. Specifically, in terms of Blanchflower, there are 11 clubs who have expressed an interest. Glentoran had a preferential user agreement for two years, so we have their information, who has been using the pitch, what times etcetera, and it isn’t just their senior team.

"It is under 15’s boys and upwards, and some of the girls, under sevens, under nines and under 19. So we will have all their figures for the two years on the site.

“Officers have also been in touch with all 11 clubs, this is part of our pitch strategy anyway, to try and understand demand in the area. And as mentioned, this will need to be repeated across multiple sites.

“The teams are particularly interested in 'prime slots' - I call them that in reference to parents and kids. These slots are Monday to Thursday, 6pm to 8pm.

“We have all the information now, all the clubs interested, how many players, what their preferences are. So if the committee decides to sit down and get into the details, we now have that detail.”

Green Councillor Anthony Flynn said: "I don't understand why we would want to just talk to Glentoran - that doesn't make any sense to me whatsoever. Option three does everything we want in terms of ensuring that all clubs are included in this.

"I don't see why we should have a further workshop - that work is clearly done. Let's put this to bed please."

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