When the advisory Sports Council was first established by the Wilson Labour Government in 1965, Walter Winterbottom, former England soccer manager and General Secretary of the CCPR, was seconded to be Director. Recognising his wisdom and work, Denis Molyneux was seconded from Birmingham University to be Deputy Director and David Munrow, who had been a fellow lecturer and friend of Winterbottom at Leeds Carnegie, became a member of the Council itself.
The new advisory Sports Council, as pledged by Labour in the 1964 General Election, was announced to both Houses of Parliament on February 3rd, 1965. The Council initiated several projects to underpin new sporting growth. The first was the establishment of Regional Sports Councils whose work brought together senior planners, educators, architects, and representatives of sport. The second in late 1965 was to form a Committee, as a working party, which was led by Sir John Lang, to make recommendations to the Sports Council for provision of:
Sports grounds, including playing fields, athletics tracks, tennis courts and the special contribution of hard surface areas and floodlit areas;
Swimming pools, including the provision needed for learning, training, recreation, competition, and diving;
Sports halls and other indoor facilities, including large complexes with halls of 7,000 sq.ft. or more, smaller halls of 5,000 sq. ft., facilities for dance and movement and for other activities such as squash, judo, weight training etc.
The Committee included city and county planning officers, Education Department officials from England, Scotland and Wales, and Denis Molyneux from the Sports Council and was to produce a landmark report in 1968, ‘Planning for Sport’ (‘Planning for Sport in Scotland’ was subsequently produced by the Scottish Sports Council in 1972 and similar planning reports were devised by the Sports Council for Wales and later the Northern Ireland Sports Council).
‘Planning for Sport’ was the first attempt at a coordinated approach to planning the new facilities that Wolfenden so earnestly identified as being needed. Although charged with the task of recommending scales of provision for different sizes of community, a measure employed by some European countries including West Germany and France, the Working Party concluded early in its work that regional variation made “national norms” unrealistic. Instead they devised methods which, when supplemented with local data, would enable authorities to assess their own requirements.
In the report, the Working Party prophetically stated, “We have indicated that there is evidence of substantial demand, both existing and latent, for recreational facilities, with growing leisure and affluence this demand is likely to increase”. It approached each area of provision separately – sports grounds, swimming pools, sports halls, and other indoor facilities – as each presented different problems. In approaching the task in this way, it was not the belief of the Working Party that each of the three areas of provision should be regarded as separate, either in location or administration; indeed, concluding chapters drew attention to the possibilities, through dual use and joint planning, of linking two or all the categories into multi-sports centres.
The Working Party was aided in its study of multi-sport centres, as it termed them at the time, by several complexes which became operational during the mid-1960s provided by different authorities. A survey of the first five defined community sports centres had been undertaken from 1967-69 by John Birch, then Senior Technical Officer of the CCPR [Sports Council Study 1 Indoor Sports Centres HMSO 1971]. The survey was designed to feed into the provision of guidance on Sports Halls in Planning for Sport. As the first attempt at studying the use of indoor sports centres, the survey was also influential in later developments. ‘Planning for Sport’ was referred to by many Local authorities seeking guidance on their own provision. Based on Birch’s conclusions, a 20-minute journey time was often used as a standard catchment for an indoor centre. An important portent from the Working Party for the 1970’s, and thereafter, was its statement on the changing role of local authorities. “It is the local authorities that have become most involved in the changing pattern of demand for physical recreation. The pressures on land, the expense of new capital facilities….and the expectations of further demands have all contributed to the need for local authorities to consider overall policies for recreational provision.”
To reinforce the emphasis on planning and research, the Department of Education & Science undertook statistical research into participation in outdoor and physical recreation. The research report, ‘Planning for Leisure’, was published in 1969 (Government Social Study – K. K. Sillitoe).
In the light of its observations on schools, the Department of Education and Science Circular 2/70 ‘The Chance to Share’ was also important and gave more control to local authorities over their own local expenditure, free of government control, for locally determined schemes including almost all sport and recreation schemes. Local authorities could now go ahead in providing facilities, provided they stayed within their overall block allocation of capital investment.
So, by 1970 we saw, for the first time in UK sporting and political life, the start of strategic planning processes for sports provision, just in time for local government re-organisation and a period of planning at these local levels. These processes which were to continue strongly at least into the 1990s.