A TEN year battle for a 3G football pitch in Portavogie has taken a major step forward with councillors backing the plans.

Members of Ards and North Down Council’s Community and Wellbeing Committee have backed the plan for a new synthetic pitch and pavilion, although details of what are believed to be hefty costs of the scheme have not been revealed. 

The issue had been due to be discussed in private but councillor Robert Adair secured the narrow backing of the committee to have the debate heard in public.

The long-running campaign had faced numerous challenges over the years and had been stymied in recent times by a stand-off between the council and Northern Ireland Water (NIW). 

The water authority claimed that to provide a new pitch, costly infrastructural improvements would first have to be made, but wanted the council to foot the bill. 

The council however demanded that NIW pay for it before a financial compromise was finally reached recently, paving the way for progress.

On the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting, the committee had been due to merely ‘consider’ a report by the Leisure Services Department which contained revised capital revenue and future budgetary commitments.

The recommendation intended for members to decide ‘if officers continue to progress with this project’.

However, Mr Adair instead called for the council to actively ‘adopt the recommendations in the report’ and that members agree to ‘proceed with the development of the Portavogie 3G pitch’.

“Ten years ago I proposed that the council availed of funding to deliver a 3G pitch,” said Mr Adair.

“There were approximately 250 children in the area back in 2013 but there are almost 400 now, not to mention the senior teams who come from all over the area and from across the towns and villages in the peninsula, even Newtownards and Bangor.”

Describing it as a ‘cross-community’ club, Mr Adair stressed that despite the ‘greater need’ the existing grass pitch’s condition had deteriorated in recent years to an ‘almost unplayable position’.  

“I’m asking everyone to unite behind this because we need to move to the future to enhance the sporting facilities in the borough and if we don’t invest in this, they will have to travel further afield.

“No project that I have ever brought has ever taken so long and I’m making a plea here tonight to put politics aside and let’s do this for the children and young people of the borough,” he said.

His DUP colleague, councillor Eddie Thompson backed the proposal saying the matter had ‘gone on for too long.

“This facility needs to be started and completed soon,” he said. 

“I know there’s a cost but if we delay this further the cost is only going to go up even higher, particularly in light of the current climate of prices rises,” he said. 

Independent councillor, Tom Smith said he had ‘difficulty supporting this’ due to concerns over the plans’ ‘capital and revenue costs’ contained within the report.

Stressing however, that he had ‘supported it every step of the way’ he added that ‘we have spent a lot of time on this and officers’ time’ and suggested that it be deferred a further time to ‘see if we could save on the costs’.

Councillor Joe Boyle agreed, officially proposing an amendment to defer it to enable committee members to get ‘further explanation of all the costings’. 

The SDLP representative’s amendment was seconded by councillor Martin McRandal, of the Alliance Party, who also called for clarity.

But following a vote, the amendment to defer again was quashed.

Mr Boyle stressed he had always supported a new 3G pitch for Portavogie but maintained ‘this is not a land of milk and honey’ and called for ‘further discussions’.