Environmental concerns over plastic pitches at proposed Holbeck Sports Hub

As many will have seen from the last couple of weeks, there is a new proposed Holbeck Sports Hub. As reported by South Leeds Life on 10th June, this will be a community sports hub and GP surgery on the former Matthew Murray High School site at the end of Brown Lane East.

I’m really glad to see a proposal for a community hub! I firmly believe that these centres are very often the hearts of our communities, providing so many opportunities for both young and old people in our area. A café and games area stand out as something I think will be fantastic – these will be great spots for members of our community to socialise; I would welcome them wholeheartedly!

However, one aspect of the sports hub raises concern: three full-size 3G plastic pitches. Plastic pitches are known to be environmentally unfriendly, and seeing that there would be three – which would mean just shy of 20,000 square metres of artificial grass – raised alarm bells. For starters, artificial grass has a strong negative impact on biodiversity, but they also have impacts such as overheating in hot weather and potential micro plastic pollution.

With this in mind, I decided to attend one of the two in-person consultations provided, at St Matthew’s Community Centre. When I raised my concerns about the temperature and micro plastics, the response I received was simply that they were “dubious”. Of the reading materials provided about the plastic grass, one of them was all about trekboards (incidentally, produced by the manufacturers themselves!) and the other was a FAQs document: it did not discuss any potential environmental factors. Additionally, I found it unsettling that the argument “natural grass is just as bad as plastic grass” was used; natural grass does not overheat in hot temperatures nor does it damage the biodiversity of the area.

All the while, I was being reassured that the grass that would be used for these pitches is not the same as typical domestic artificial grass. However, I am yet to find any public information about the specific differences, other than a note in the FAQs document provided stating that 3G grass is a certain number of millimetres longer. My question is: if I cannot find articles explaining the difference between these two types of grass, let alone find confirmation that two types indeed exist, how are we as residents being consulted to be assured that this new sports hub – with potential to contribute great things to our community – will not be covered in 20,000 square metres of environmentally unfriendly plastic?

It seems the main benefit of using artificial grass for the hub is its durability. According to those at the consultation, the plastic grass provides around 44 hours more durability than natural grass, which makes it ideal for winter weather when matches have to be cancelled due to poor conditions. I certainly see the benefits myself of ensuring games can be played in the winter, however one could argue that – if our summers will continue to be like last year’s, with 40 degree heat – this merely transfers match cancellations to the summer, since it will invariably be unsafe to play on plastic which can reach very high temperatures.

To give credit where it is due: it seems there is awareness from the proposers of ensuring the rubber crumb is within EU regulations, and there is assurance that the pitch surface water will not drain into a river or a beck. I am assured of these aspects, however it is the others which give rise to my anxiety over this proposal.

In conclusion, it seems there is a lack of transparency here. I am yet to be convinced, and I therefore recommend to my fellow Holbeck residents that we oppose the use of artificial grass for the proposed Holbeck Sports Hub.


This post was written by Matt Rogan

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5 Replies to “Environmental concerns over plastic pitches at proposed Holbeck Sports Hub”

  1. After reading Matt’s post on the meeting for the proposed facilities at the old Matthew Murray High School’s land site, I decided to do a little information research on the G rating of artificial turf and the possible alternatives.
    I found two pieces that explain the contents of the turf, the issues with G3 and its rubber content (No matter how popular), hybrid turf and alternative fill options:


    The reading is interesting, to name a few:
    4G turf is in it’s early development stages.
    3G turf is widely used, but linked to unpleasant health and environmental issues.
    Hybrid turf is 95% natural grass turf mixed with 5% synthetic and is used in world football cup stadiums.
    Alternatives to the rubber fill are cork and even coconut, but I would recommend anyone concerned about health and environmental issues to give these two links a read.

  2. The pitch infill for the proposed Holbeck Sports Hub is bottom of the league. It is very bad for the environment. Unfortunately there are also PFAS Forever Chemicals in the plastic grass blades and carpet backing. For this reason campaigners stress that better constructed and well managed natural grass pitches are the best option. Natural grass also cools the city. This development will cause an urban heat island effect that will reduce Holbeck’s air quality.
    It is interesting to note that the council advised Matt that the rubber crumb will meet current EU regulations but at the same time the council are aware that in April the EU voted to ban the sale of rubber crumb infill altogether. This is because of the significant microplastic pollution the infill causes and the potential risk to human health. So the council are basically flogging an end of line clearance product to Holbeck. A product that will be discontinued because it causes significant damage.
    I understand from Matt’s Facebook posts that the council representative also dismissed concern over microplastics as “dubious”.
    The “manufacture of doubt” is used by industries resisting regulation, from tobacco to fossil fuels according to David Michaels (Professor of Public Health). Michaels advises that research carried out by seemingly independent scientists has often been used to convince regulators, legislators and even the public that there is doubt about the harms caused by a particular chemical or product.
    Last month Sport England wrote to the council and advised officers and councillors that ‘independent studies’ show that leakage of microplastics off the pitch can be reduced by 98%.
    There is actually only one study that says this and it was commissioned by the EMEA Synthetic Turf Council – the voice of the industry. It also does not reflect the EU findings that has led to the ban.
    Last month EU inspectors raided artificial turf companies across Europe on the suspicion that the companies have been operating a cartel and restrictive business practices. This included a raid on the parent company of Tiger Turf used by the Football Foundation. The Football Foundation is Leeds City Council’s partner in this development. Investigations into the companies are ongoing.

  3. You would be crazy to use rubber crumb infill. Rubber crumb is known to leak from artificial pitches into the environment and has been shown to be a significant source of intentionally-introduced microplastic pollution.
    Microplastic pollution has been shown to damage wildlife, and environment, and possibly humans.
    Waterways are particularly prone to this sort of pollution. That is why artificial pitches that use rubber crumb located in flood plains or near waterways are particularly bad for the environment.
    More councils are waking up to the risk.
    The rubber crumb from artificial pitches leaks into the environment through several routes. It is carried out by users of the pitch in boots and clothes (often ending up in a washing machine and going through to the water treatment), it is blown off the pitch by the wind, washed off by rain, and removed by floods and snow.
    Each pitch requires 1-5 tonnes of rubber crumb top up each year. There are various estimates for the average amount leaked from a pitch, but independent studies (eg. not funded by the artificial turf industry) consistently show it is a significant amount.
    The leakage can be reduced by containment measures such containment barriers, snow containment measures, boot cleaning stations, maintenance equipment permanently kept within the containment area or cleaned before exiting, and drainage filters. However, independent research has shown that these measures cannot reduce the leakage as much as is claimed. It is also the case that most small clubs are not able to implement several of the measures effectively.
    FA-approved alternatives to rubber crumb are available.
    In the EU, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recommended a total ban on all intentionally-introduced microplastics, including rubber crumb. The EU Commission has endorsed the recommendation and it is anticipated that a total ban within EU countries will soon be adopted. A total ban is supported by many environmental and scientific NGOs.
    A good summary is provided by the environmental charity Fidra. Fidra has previously worked with the sports and synthetic turf industries with a programme to raise awareness of the issue and help clubs and councils with rubber crumb pitches reduce the leakage. However, they now advocate for a total ban.
    See: https://www.fidra.org.uk/pitch-in/intentionally-added-microplastics-restriction/

  4. Other people who attended the meeting stated concern over the artificial grass but as usual any concerns were brushed aside .
    Also why destroy numerous mature trees and create a 200 vehicle car park for which the security will be cctv which i am sure will not deter some groups taking over the car park for there own use .
    This site has Fox’s , Hedgehogs , birds of prey , and a diversity of insects its a shame it couldn’t be actually turned into a park which was wild for Schoolchildren etc to visit and learn about nature.
    The widening of footpaths and fencing + street changes done in Holbeck recently are already showing wear and tear , trees planted but not watered during the heatwave damaged kerbs and fencing etc not repaired some which was caused by the original contractors .
    The council seem to to think that everybody has a point of view so long as it is there’s i thought the council were trying to stop car use not increase it .
    I suppose once again any concerns will be ignored by councillors and they will be looking forward to the Photo opportunities to come .

  5. In promoting 3G pitches the Council is disregarding many of its policies which are designed to protect the environment. However when challenged on issues relating to biodiversity, carbon zero and the waste generated by these pitches they claim they meet all requirements- even stating they are carbon zero- an impossibility given the plastic and microplastic involved.
    The Council has also ignored the work of Andrew Watterson a Professor of Public Health who has stated that the pitches should be banned due to health concerns- particularly for children.

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