Why rationalising sport and leisure provision is key for developers and land owners
Sports and leisure facilities are evolving; from destinations for the select and passionate few, to vital requirements within communities. Directors at LK2 – a unique company of consultants specialising in architecture and sports and leisure project development - Andrew Kitchen and Gary Johnson, discuss why rationalisation of sports and leisure provision enables developers / land owners and the local community to benefit from fit-for-purpose sport, leisure, health and community facilities.
Investment in new, state-of-the-art sport and leisure facilities has traditionally been reserved for team sport and even then, stringent budgets have sometimes limited their potential. However, the strength and popularity of sport and active recreation is grounded in its social nature and thankfully we’re starting to see a real recognition of this, with value attributed to how it relates to the wider population and a sense of community. As a result, new types of sport, leisure and community projects are being established in line with commercial realisation.
Creating ‘hubs’ for growth
Sporting facilities are quickly becoming more multi-functional; and can be used not just for traditional team sport activities such as rugby or football, but more recently, urban adventure sports such as BMXing, wall climbing alongside current physical and activity trends within the leisure sector. All of this contributes to the broader move towards ‘place making’ and feeds into the idea of these new leisure facilities being part of a wider network or community to align with Sport England’s strategy. With greater ties to other sectors or private businesses, and the increasing pressure on the budget of local authorities, it’s understandable why there’s a rise in initiatives from organisations such as Sport England and the Football Association to enhance recreational activities.
A noticeable trend is the rise of multi-site destinations or sporting ‘hubs’. It makes sense that busy people want family friendly facilities to be near to their homes or that families need something for their children to do while they are taking part in an activity. Accessible destinations, much like retail parks and greenspace, are ideal for these kinds of facilities and ultimately lead to an increase in land value for developers.
Understanding the needs of communities
If building a new sports or leisure facility is not achievable or required, an asset transfer can take place to bridge the gap. An asset transfer occurs when the management or ownership of a facility is transferred, usually from public bodies – such as local authorities – to community and voluntary organisations or social and community enterprises. This process can be used to unlock space on a site or alter it to better serve the needs of local people, community groups and organisations.
However, the concept of asset transfer is impractical unless it is supported by in-depth information on the surrounding area, providing a real understanding of what the local community wants and needs in order to become more active. Rather than looking at an individual site or sport, it is important to begin by considering a wider area to make sure existing and future facilities will work together and are futureproofed. It is also important to review why the transaction is taking place, is it to reduce surplus facilities? To rationalise existing facilities to potentially close underperforming facilities? Or is it more appropriate to build a new state-of-the-art hub to incorporate more than one sport on a site?
Identifying the need for a new or improved sports facility also relies on reviewing a range of effecting criteria, what is the demographic of the community? What existing sports and leisure provisions does the community have? And what is the usage rate of these facilities?
Rationalisation of significant developments (such as sustainable urban developments), provides an opportunity to enhance multi-functional facility provision to deliver much-needed sport, leisure and recreational facilities rather than just the “norm” of open-space / play park provision.
By undertaking a scoping review to provide evidential results on what is ‘needed’ in the locality, the local community are likely to benefit from fit-for-purpose facilities, whilst the developer / land-owner is able to work with the local community and enhance relationships by providing a ‘need’ rather than the ‘norm’ or a ‘want’.
It’s important to note that this isn’t possible for all developments, but by bringing Sport England / National Governing of Bodies of Sport and the Local Authority upstream in the development process, we can help eliminate the ‘developer led approach’ of providing unsuitable facilities and replace this with a facility mix that works for all parties.
Usually with large developments such as housing developments over a minimum size, you have to show space for sports facilities. This land is usually either not suitable for the proposed sport, not what is needed for the community (links back to understanding the local and wider need) or it could be there is surplus land allocated and Sport England will likely object.
By undertaking a quick study, we are able to predict what the current and future needs of the community might be and then write a report on how to release the allocated surplus sports land for further development, for example moving all sports onto a single multi-use hub site.
Overall when it comes to the process of developing community sports facilities, it is important to be armed with real community insight – if a community has a need or desire for a facility, then the opportunity to increase the land value may present itself. It’s important to evaluate and action in a measured way, with the help of experts every step of the way.
By cleverly optimising the lands true potential, developers can deliver results with the help of regional and demographical insights which will ultimately help achieve the plots full financial potential and save funds along the way.