A £14,000 cover will be used to protect the problem-hit pitch at the Ballymena Showgrounds during bad weather, it has emerged.
The move emerged during a specially convened meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council on Wednesday to confirm immediate, short-term and long-term plans to improve the main pitch at Ballymena Showgrounds.
An investigation was launched by Council last week to address ongoing issues at with the venue’s playing surface.
In recent months, a number of matches have been cancelled.
A Council spokesperson said the surface is nowhere near the standard Council or its partners expect.
The findings of council’s investigation were brought before Wednesday’s special meeting, at which councillors were updated on what issues had been identified and what Council is doing to address the matter and ensure the pitch at the Showgrounds is among the best in Northern Ireland.
Significant works on the pitch were completed in June 2018 and were carried out by an outside contractor to an excellent standard, the council said.
The Council spokesperson added: “Since then, Council staff have closely followed the dedicated maintenance plan for the pitch that was developed by the consultant.
“Ballymena United, who were due to play on the pitch in mid-September, delayed their return to the Showgrounds until October in order to give the new surface the maximum time to settle. This was very much appreciated by Council.
“The Council investigation launched last week has identified the current issues as having resulted from the smearing of the grass combined with compaction of the surface.
“Smearing is when grass is uprooted and becomes embedded in soil on the top of a natural surface.
“The main reason for the current poor condition of the pitch is believed to be overplaying of the new surface combined with receding grass cover and wet weather.
“The responsibility for the pitch lies solely with Council, who manage bookings for the venue, and who are fully committed to restoring the pitch.
“In recent weeks our staff have worked tirelessly to address the compaction and direct seeding has also taken place.
“In the coming weeks, planned steps to protect the surface include the use of a full pitch cover during inclement weather, and Council is considering a range of options to boost the recovery of the pitch.
“Council is also continuing to work closely with experts throughout the ongoing remedial works, as well as delivering an extensive end of season maintenance programme from May.
“The planned remedial works will fall within the initial costing for the overall development of the surface at Ballymena Showgrounds.
“The poor condition of the Showgrounds surface has been taken extremely seriously by Council, with the Chief Executive working closely with Council’s senior management to identify and deliver the necessary solutions as a priority.
“Council again wishes to apologise to Ballymena United, the club’s fans, our citizens, and the wider football family, and we thank them for their patience as we work hard to ensure we have a football venue to be proud of.”
Meanwhile, in a statement to ‘Ballymena Daily’, TUV councillor Stewart McDonald said big questions remain about the pitch.
He said: “Following a discussion last night at Council about the issue of the Showgrounds pitch it was decided to spend £14,000 on a rain cover.
“This is in spite of the fact that council officials maintain that there is no issue with drainage at the pitch.
“It was claimed that the recent problems with the pitch are the result of cut grass being allowed to lie on the surface of the pitch and overplaying on the new surface.
“If that is the explanation for recent problems with the playing surface why do we need to spend £14,000 of ratepayer’s money on a rain cover?
“It strikes me that something does not add up here. Either the drains do work well as claimed and this is a temporary problem or we need to invest on a rain cover.
“Tellingly, a series of requests for information about the pitch which I submitted in advance of the meeting last night remain unanswered namely:
1. The record kept by the council while the work was being carried out including photographs taken at the various stages of the project.
2. All contact made with the contractors to date seeking to get them to rectify the work.
3. Copies of all advice provided by the contractors advising as to when the pitch would be ready to play on after being installed.
4. Copies of all assurances obtained advising as to the life of the pitch after installation.
“I am continuing to press for answers to these questions. A significant amount of ratepayers’ money has already been spent on the Showgrounds pitch and significant questions remain unanswered. This is not something I am prepared to let lie.”