Footballers angry at council price hike

FURIOUS footballers are this week venting their anger at Newtownabbey Borough Council after it dramatically DOUBLED the price an astroturf facility at its flagship leisure centre.

The price hike, from 20 to 40 at the Valley Leisure Centre, has left local clubs and soccer enthusiasts baffled and out of pocket.

In a statement to the Times the council said "customers are being told about of the new price agreement in order to plan for the price rise".

But the Times can reveal users at the Valley have already been asked to pay the new prices before they have been agreed at January's council meeting.

When this newspaper phoned the leisure centre to query the price of booking the sand-based astroturf, it was the proposed higher tariff we were quoted.

Representatives from amateur league teams Rathfern Rangers and 4th Newtownabbey Old Boys, who use the facilty for training, have met with Valley management to discuss the new tariff and the issue also came up at a recent meeting of the council's Leisure Committee.

Council veteran Fraser Agnew opposed the price rise but said he lacked support from his political colleagues.

He also revealed that those wishing to play hockey on the same facility would only be charged 21 - a move Mr Agnew described as "discrimination against footballers".

"I was ploughing a lonely furrow," he said.

"How they can justify such an increase is beyond me. Hockey players will only have to pay 21 - that's discrimination against those who are playing football. It just seems outrageous to me. I am far from happy about it.

"It is a move to discourage football and encourage hockey," he said.

Henry Hughes has been playing football at the Valley since it opened in 1977 and has been using the astroturf since it opened in 1991.

He is now considering taking his regular Monday night slot to another venue.

"I think it's ridiculous and the players think its crazy," he said.

Mr Hughes said he has already been asked to pay the new price, despite the increase not being passed at full council level.

"I don't know what is going on. In fact, I'm not too sure what rate I should be paying. Between the Valley and the council, the left hand doesn't seem to know what the right hand is doing.

"I don't fancy paying 40 at the Valley. Foundry Lane may be more ideal - same council different price. If I can’t get anywhere else, I may have to pay it under protest,” he said.

And a statement issued on behalf of 4th Newtownabbey Old Boys said: “We are disappointed with actions of Newtownabbey Council and the VLC in reviewing the rates for the hiring of the Astroturf facility without considering the requirements of clubs or keeping us informed of developments.

“This price increase will cost Clubs 2,200.00/season (Sept to March) for training facilities, an additional 1,045.00 compared to a hockey club.

If ratified by the Council it will result in a perilous downward spiral for Junior Clubs.

“Why are NBC inflating rates to such an extortionate and discriminatory level depending on the chosen sport?,” it said.

Unfortunately, we have been made aware over the last few weeks the VLC has taken it upon themselves to implement the new proposed prices before Council approval.”

“We only hope the Council, at next week’s meeting, will see this proposal as having negative affect on clubs and 'freeze' prices for the foreseeable future in the interests of sport and football clubs within the borough,” the statement added.