University to install new all-weather community-use running trail

Thursday 24 November 2022

The University of St Andrews intends to fund and install an all-weather, floodlit running and jogging trail at University Park, St Andrews, for use by students, staff and the North East Fife community.

The decision to invest in the new, free-to-use 500 metre facility follows extensive consultation with students, staff and community members on the future of the existing 400 metre running track in St Andrews. The development will be subject to planning approval.

The current track is more than 25 years old and well beyond its accepted lifespan. It was closed following a health and safety inspection earlier this year after it developed a number of holes and damage to its surface. Industry experts have confirmed it is not possible to patch or repair the track to acceptable safety standards. The terms of the original Synthetic Sports grant, which helped fund the installation of the track in 1996, expired seven years ago.

In consultations with track users, Saints Sport met with student sports clubs, local community clubs and groups (including Fife Athletics Club, East Fife Triathlon Club, East Fife Sports Council, Disability Sport Fife, St Andrews Community Council), relevant governing bodies (Scottish Athletics and Triathlon Scotland), Fife Council, and Fife Sport & Leisure Trust.

Information, user views and evidence gathered throughout the consultation process have been carefully considered by Saints Sport, and the University Principal’s Office, and the University is grateful to all who took the time to give their views, and make suggestions.

Taking all the evidence into account, the University has decided:

  • To fund and install a 500 metre floodlit, all-weather jogging and running trail around University Park. The University has been persuaded of the need for a running/jogging facility which supports safe use by students, staff and the local community. During consultation, it was argued that a safe, floodlit facility was particularly important to female runners and joggers, for training and casual use. Although recorded track use is extremely low, it has been consistently argued that this did not take account of casual use which can be difficult to record accurately. An all-weather running trail, which will be free for all to use, addresses that point. It will be dependent on planning approval from Fife Council.
  • To remove the old 400 metre track. The track is unsafe, substantially beyond its predicted lifetime, and cannot be patched. Its close proximity to the busy 3G pitch means that even if it were possible to fund a complete replacement in situ, short run-off distances would pose a risk to pitch and track users, and are counter to modern standards of safety and best practice. Recorded track use is low, and sporadic. St Andrews currently makes arrangements for student athletes to use state-of-the-art facilities elsewhere in Fife and Tayside.
  • To resurface and extend the current 3G pitch. There is considerable proven demand for pitches at University Park. Contrary to what had been claimed during the consultation process, pitches are used widely by both female and male sports clubs and demand is growing: 41% of people using the pitches are female, compared to 54% of track users.
  • To work with Scottish Athletics and Fife Council to support and, if necessary, contribute to the development of a new 400 metre track serving North East Fife. During consultation, both bodies confirmed that they could not contribute to the replacement of the track at University Park. The University would hope to work with Scottish Athletics and Fife Council to leverage support and funding for a new standalone community facility development in North East Fife, and would fully support a collaboration between key stakeholders, including local community clubs and groups, to advocate for a fit-for-purpose track and field facility offering all-year-round access that best serves the community.

It is hoped work on the new all-weather trail can begin later this year, with completion in 2023.

“We’re grateful to those who took the time to consult with us, to make constructive suggestions, and to understand the challenges the University faces in replacing a running a track in its current location,” said Stephen Stewart, Director of Saints Sport.

“We have listened to the arguments about the importance of a safe running facility, especially for female runners, and the claims about the extent to which the old track was used casually, even if records show its use otherwise was extremely low.

“We’re prepared to invest in a new all-weather, floodlit jogging trail to answer those demands.

“We accept that neither Fife Council nor Scottish Athletics will be able to make any contribution to that, or the provision of a new track at University Park, but we stand ready to work with them and all stakeholders to advocate for a fit for purpose track and field facility offering all-year-round access that best serves the community.”

This article was edited on Friday 25 November. The original wrongly stated that Scottish Athletics has statutory responsibility for and receives budget for the provision of sports facility for the public good. We are happy to clarify this point. It remains the case, however, that neither Scottish Athletics nor Fife Council were able to offer any contribution to a like-for-like replacement of the St Andrews running track.

During the consultation period, the University was asked to consider the following claims in support of arguments to retain or replace the track in situ.

  • The facility was used widely by the community – from seven-year-olds to 70 year olds; usage data for the track does not consider casual or informal use. Prior to closure, the track was one of the least used facilities at Saints Sport – only two groups had regular bookings: an adult endurance group from community club Fife AC (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6pm to 7pm) and the student Athletics & Cross Country Club (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5.30pm to 6.30pm – averaging only 15-20 students per session). The University Triathlon Club also previously used the track with 15 – 20 students on average attending a session. Since 2015, the track has accommodated only 209 bookings (420 hours) per year on average. Usage and membership data provides a true reflection of student club trends, the low number of track bookings and the decline in the number, and change in demographics, of the user groups accessing the facility – for example, the decline in junior athletics in the area. There have been no junior bookings on the track since February 2020 and local schools did not regularly use the track. Whilst we acknowledge that quantifying casual use is difficult, subjectively we don’t agree with the claim that the facility was well used.
  • Much of the track usage is by individuals who come for fitness – the track provided a well-lit, safe place for individuals to run when activity was taking place on the 3G pitch, particularly in the winter months. We acknowledge this, along with the fact that running and jogging is an inclusive and low-cost way to take exercise. The University will fund, install and maintain a dedicated all-weather floodlit jogging trail around University Park.
  • The University track provided the only facility in North East Fife for international level track athletes. There are two better, local authority-owned and maintained, purpose-built athletics facilities in West and Central Fife (the Michael Woods Sports and Leisure Centre in Glenrothes and the Pitreavie Athletics Centre in Dunfermline), as well as the Regional Performance Centre in Dundee.
  • The track is the only free training facility at the University and therefore an important facility with regards to the wider health and wellbeing of the St Andrews community. This is untrue. The grass playing fields perimeter, outdoor multi-purpose courts and 3G pitch operate by the same model as the running track whereby all casual use is free, as is the new calisthenics multi-station outdoor gym. The Sports Development team also host recreational activities throughout the academic year that are free to all students. Saints Sport has been recognised by Scottish Student Sport and by the University’s Mental Health Task Force as a sector outlier in the excellent engagement of sport amongst our population and its impact as a route for student wellness and belonging.
  • The track is an accessible sports facility and disability sport is very well catered for by a running track. Whilst we fully support these comments, the track is not the only facility at University Park that caters for disabled users/athletes.
  • Students may have come to St Andrews to study under the impression that there will be a track, and removal thereof would mean the University is in breach of consumer protection legislation. The University’s Deputy Legal Officer has confirmed this is not the case.
  • The current track was paid for by the community on the understanding the University and the local community would both use it, with open access to the community. The running track was installed in 1996 as part of a Synthetic Sports Development project, along with the sand-dressed pitch, outdoor tennis courts, cricket nets, a new reception area, changing facilities, and upgrades to roads and car parking. The agreement covering these facilities was for a 20-year period, which is long since expired. The whole project cost £1,241,800 and was jointly funded by the Lottery Sports Fund (distributed by the Scottish Sport Council, now sportscotland), Foundation for Sport and the Arts, North East Fife District Council, Royal & Ancient Golf Club, Lawn Tennis Association, and the University. The University provided the land for the facility and was solely responsible for the infrastructure, ongoing maintenance, and staffing. The local community have had access to the track throughout its lifespan, and still have access to all other facilities at University Park funded by the original Sports Development award. During consultation, it emerged that neither Fife Council nor Scottish Athletics was able to make any contribution to the replacement of the track in St Andrews.
  • The track was not maintained by the University. This is untrue. The track has been maintained throughout its lifespan, initially using an external contractor, but since 2013 this has been performed in-house by the University Estates’ grounds team as part of their annual maintenance programme. In the last five years, repairs and patching have been necessary to repair the most worn areas, but the facility is now at the end of its life. The running track has a lifespan of less than 20 years – lower usage of the track at University Park has extended its lifespan well beyond the norm, but it is now beyond repair, as confirmed by Polytan (specialist sports surfaces provider).
  • The athletics facility on campus in St Andrews is essential for the student population to be able to access an athletics track and thus achieve their athletic potential. Since 2014, student participation in Athletics has been consistently low, with Athletics Club membership for the period 2014 to 2019 fluctuating between 17 and 23 members. During the consultation process, it was confirmed that, on average, there are c.20 students per cross country session, 15 per athletics session and 15-20 per triathlon session. Following the closure of the track, Saints Sport secured access for the Athletics and Cross Country Club to train at the Regional Performance Centre (Dundee) and Michael Woods Sports and Leisure Centre (Glenrothes), covering transport and facility hire costs for their weekly sessions. The Triathlon Club also have semi-regular bookings at Michael Woods Sports and Leisure Centre. It is not uncommon for student clubs to train elsewhere to gain access to sport specific training facilities. Of the 52 sports clubs at St Andrews, 29 clubs (56%) rely on using external facilities for their regular weekly training sessions or hosting fixtures; 15 clubs (29%) train solely at external venues; and a further 14 (27%) use a combination of University Park and additional external facilities. Sports clubs at St Andrews are in the unique position to have access to a fleet of 26 University vehicles every week to travel to training, competitions, and trips. The fleet allows us to provide opportunities for students to try new sports and compete in nationwide competitions without the expense or administrative work of booking and hiring their own vehicles.
  • The student sports clubs that would benefit from a larger 3G pitch are mainly male dominated, unlike track-using clubs where there is a more even split. This is untrue. Student sports club membership data for 2021-2022 shows this is not the case, with 41% female participation (298 members) of clubs using the 3G pitch compared with 54% participation (136 members) of track-using clubs – on average there are c.20 students per cross country session, 15 per athletics session, and 15-20 per triathlon session.
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