This week in Parliament, I signed up to a pledge to ‘make the United Kingdom the most active nation in Europe’. This was at an event organised by the sport, recreation, and physical activity sector’s leading bodies, many of whom I have worked with on a number of campaigns / issues since I was first elected to Parliament.
If we are to become a healthier, happier, and more prosperous nation, we must address the UK’s relatively poor performance with a worrying 36% of adults classed as ‘physically inactive’.
Many potential areas of improvement are obvious: investing in sports and leisure facilities, pro-active planning, embedding open and useable green spaces into new developments, opening up school sports facilities for community use, targeted interventions, improved marketing / promotions across the sport and leisure industry etc. All of these I have pushed for both locally and nationally.
Now this week, locally, I have seen two very contrasting examples of the good and bad.
On the positive front, I was delighted to visit the new Evoke Gymnastics facility on Barnfield Road. I have been working with Evoke for a few years as they looked for new, larger facilities as their waiting list kept growing. They have also been a star attraction at my annual Summer Activities Fair thanks to their amazing displays.
To secure this facility, a planning application for change of use was required. Thankfully this was successful, and the facility was unlocked. This has meant Evoke have been able to welcome more members, and open daytime toddler sessions – the building has become a real hive of activity, of real benefit to the local community.
On the negative front, one of our local schools has had a nightmare with their school’s sports pitches. In the summer they are dangerously cracked and, in the winter, a boggy mess – in effect unusable.
It was agreed they would build an all-weather pitch, which staggeringly was initially blocked by Sports England – a national sports body whose very purpose is to facilitate / encourage greater sports activity. I intervened and suggested Sport England could come and explain to the children why they were blocking this perfectly reasonable request. Thankfully, they had a sudden change of heart, granting permission though for school use only, but not the wider community.
Now the all-weather pitches are up and running we have revisited the community restrictions, but again Sports England have dug in and are blocking community bookings. Their justification is that with the proposed, much-delayed Moredon Sports Hub, they want to restrict the number of pitches available. I was furious to see this daft decision. By chance, just as the disappointing news came through, I was due attend the Parliamentary event where the senior Sport England team were present! I certainly let them know exactly what I thought and have at least been given an assurance they will re-look at this urgently.
Both these examples were at the mercy of planning decisions - one was thankfully positive with hundreds of children now more active, the other was negative depriving a community access. So, if we are serious about the United Kingdom becoming the most active nation in Europe, common sense must be applied, and this will only happen if all decision makers understand and remember what a positive difference it can make.