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Pitch planning

Pitch planning

Proper project planning and management is the key to success. It is important to consider the following aspects during the initial stages of the project.

Environmental and sustainability considerations

Acknowledging the potential impacts of a new rugby pitch on the environment and on the wider climate is essential in any process. It is important that it is carefully considered in the design of any new facility or renovated facility, to ensure that it is as sustainable as possible and contributes to a sustainable future for the sport and the environment.

Designers need to be aware of the issues and factor them into their consideration of a design. If this is done at the start of a project, then it can also provide a more sustainable platform to reduce environmental impacts from the use of the pitch through its lifetime.  

Designers and developers should look for solutions that build in resilience and contribute to environmental sustainability which in turn will allow better management of events, and help with matters including sustainable travel, selection and use of recyclable materials, to the creation and operation of energy and resource-efficient facilities.

Specifically, the construction of a new rugby pitch should consider how it can be as sustainable as possible, within the site and budgetary constraints. From community to elite facilities, sustainability should be incorporated into the design from an early stage, ideally from project inception, and thereafter be a key consideration through the design and construction phases and into the ongoing maintenance strategy.

All stakeholders should be included in consideration of sustainability opportunities available on the site.

Selection of a suitable site

Site location and access

A site location plan with clearly marked boundaries and access points for the site identified for development should be made. A brief description of the site in its current state and any access issues should be noted.

The size, shape and orientation of the land should consider the short, medium, and long-term plans of the facility, allowing for the expansion of facilities as demand grows. An increase in usage will likely mean tighter requirements for site access from planning and public agencies. 

Consideration should also be given to site access for construction machinery and personnel as well as future users of the site. 

In conjunction with many statutory planning bodies policies, consideration should be given to promoting less impactful delivery and operational strategies that use more renewable energy options and more sustainable materials in the design and construction phases.   

It is important to gather all existing information relating to the site to make sure all necessary information is available.

Client brief

Since pitch performance is often determined by construction method and ongoing maintenance, the following information will direct the design and construction:

  • What sports will be played and when? Multi-use facilities will have a greater demand than rugby alone.
  • How big will each field be?
  • What level of rugby will be played? For example, international, regional, local, or junior?
  • What is the age profile of the players?
  • What pitch quality is expected?
  • Are there specific regulations around design? For example, drainage rates?
  • Will the facility be used for training or only for matches?
  • How many hours each week is the facility to be used?
  • Will the facility be used all year round?
  • Will the facility have floodlighting installed and what level of lighting is required?
  • Will the facility be used for non-sporting events? For example, concerts or car parking?
  • What resources will be available to maintain the facility?
  • Is the maintenance likely to be done in-house or contracted externally?
  • What is the development budget?
  • What is the maintenance budget?
  • What is the testing budget?

It is also important to include potential future development and expansion of the club and requirements for additional facilities. The pitch development may form part of a wider development of the club’s facilities and should be placed in this context. This will help to ensure that the most cost-effective solution is found for the development.

Early discussions with your project manager are essential to develop a client brief. It is important to define what the final delivery will look like. This will have a significant influence on the type and form of construction. 

A clear budget amount is required to ensure that the proposals and recommendations made in the feasibility study are realistic.

The layout of the site must cater for the demands of the club, in particular senior and junior teams; training and match day requirements (including spectators) alongside pitch access for players, machinery, and emergency services.

Feasibility studies

Having identified the proposed site, and determined the client brief, a feasibility study should be completed by a qualified person. Local planning requirements may require this along with technical reports to cover the areas below.

Environmental impact assessment 

This will review the likely impact a development may have on local ecology. It should provide actions necessary to handle any identified risks. The potential effect of development on all wildlife should be included in the report. It will allow a minimal impact strategy to be developed if there are existing species or habitats of importance on or adjacent to the site. The environmental impact assessment will predict the overall environmental effects of the development. These can be addressed at an early stage in the design and planning stage. It is also an opportunity to consider how added biodiversity net gains can be added or included in any design. Sustainable and environmentally friendly developments are encouraged by World Rugby and can often lead to economic benefits in the long term.

Geotechnical investigations

This will look at the physical and chemical properties of the local geology, performance, and load bearing potential of the ground, and identify contamination or other issues which could influence the development of the site.

Archaeological report

If the environmental impact assessment has not picked up on the potential archaeological sensitivities of the site, an investigation may be requested by the planning authority. This may be a desk top review of a known site, a field study, or excavations. This will depend on the nature of the site. The local planning authority will be able to guide on their specific requirements.

Landscape report

Planning applications may include the production of a landscape report to identify the location of existing features such as trees, shrubs and planted areas. It will also detail the loss, retention, relocation, and addition of vegetation in the proposed plan. The location and retention of historic landscape features must also be included.

Site conditions

Time on site is crucial in developing a complete and accurate picture of existing site conditions. Identifying potential issues at an early stage will ensure that they can be engineered out and taken care of in the most cost-effective manner.

It is important to build up a picture of the local climate and environmental conditions as this will influence the type of construction and grass selection for a natural grass pitch.

The boundaries of the site should be identified. Adjacent properties may influence how the site is to be developed, for example, developing a pitch in a built-up area will require a different approach to one in the countryside.

Existing vegetation and habitats

Existing vegetation within the site may need to be removed to develop a new pitch. The environmental impact of this process should be considered and, where practical, the destruction of natural habitat should be kept to a minimum. Certain species may have protection under local government legislation, so it is important to know if the site contains any protected species or habitats.

If the site is adjacent to environmentally sensitive habitats, then local government legislation, that seeks to protect the environment, must be followed. Improving the ecological value of your site could improve an adjacent sensitive habitat. This could be an advantage in the planning application process.

Do not underestimate the value of identifying the natural biodiversity on site, as this can often provide a strong indication of local ground and weather conditions by favouring one species or another.


A topographical survey is recommended for the development of a new site. It will determine:

  • earthmoving requirements
  • drainage design
  • the accuracy of the site plan
  • whether all invested parties are working to the same levels. 

Surveys can be undertaken cost effectively with modern satellite-based equipment but can be more difficult where tree canopies are present. The objective is to develop a three-dimensional auto cad drawing, which will provide the design team with a platform on which to produce existing and proposed levels. Site conditions will determine how the information is gathered but spot heights collected at between five-20m centres are normally appropriate. The site’s aspect and orientation should also be included as part of this detailed survey as they have a strong influence on ideal pitch orientation. 

Existing soil from drainage or excavation spoil should be reused within the site boundary as far as possible in the creation of bunds, boundaries and other features. The sites natural features should be used as much as possible within the site masterplan to avoid significant earthworks where possible. 


The range of soils across a single site can vary so it must be assessed both chemically and physically. Topsoil is a precious commodity and should be treated with the utmost respect, particularly if it is to be reused in the development of the site, either for the final growing medium of the pitch, or for the pitch surround and landscaping areas.

The proportions of sand, silt and clay, together with the soil’s structure and organic matter content will affect its natural drainage characteristics and the way it reacts to handling and earthworks. Topsoil depth will also determine what can and cannot be done with this limited resource.

This information should also be cross-referenced with the geotechnical survey of the site, which may provide additional information on the performance and origin of the topsoil. Rock, sand or peat on site will play a major factor in the choice of construction method and the success of the project.


The geotechnical survey should include investigation of the site profile through the full depth of any likely excavations or earthworks. The accuracy of this information is only as good as the number of boreholes or trial pits excavated and the uniformity of the ground conditions below the site. The location of all trial pits or borehole logs must be accurately marked on a site map.

It is important to know the condition of the subsoil. Landfill areas or areas of substantial rock close to the surface will significantly influence the development plan and costs for the site.

The construction of pitches on reclaimed, derelict or contaminated land, such as landfill, is never ideal and requires particular care. Pitches should only be constructed following careful consideration and proper site investigations to identify all risks involved.


A detailed search of existing services must be completed as early in the planning process as possible. Proximity to utilities should be considered in advance, and if the pitch requires dedicated systems such as irrigation, under-soil heating, sub-surface ventilation systems, grow-lights and fans, the supply of energy for these systems should be investigated. Access to services may be required by utility companies and these can affect the site’s potential expansion.

Pavilions, club houses and stands will require water, electricity, sewers, telephone/internet and possibly gas. Bringing these services to site or resurrecting redundant services must be decided upon.

Special issues

Site development is becoming much more complex as the potential impacts of any development on our natural resources, landscape, heritage, and environment are increasingly scrutinised. Relevant government legislation should be reviewed at the feasibility stage of the development.

Water is one of the most precious resources on the planet and practical design needs to consider water use and ongoing future maintenance. In an urban setting, sustainable drainage systems are often a requirement of pitch design to meet strict discharge rates imposed by planning requirements. 

The facility will, depending on its size, require a significant volume of water for the growing and maintenance of the sports turf, and possibly some of the landscape features. A viable, quality water source can be identified by a hydrology survey. Some local environment agencies require and issue licenses for boreholes. If mains water is being used there may be limitations or costs involved in its supply.

Local knowledge is important in helping to identify any special constraints that may be required as part of the development.

It is also worth considering sustainable methods of providing other necessary utilities outside of traditional methods. This might include energy by using solar panels or windmills or ground source heat pumps for heating.

Local planning considerations

Few sites can be developed without local government consent. A thorough understanding of what is required at a local level is important to ensure that the necessary documentation is prepared. Local planning experts can assist with the preparation of an application to ensure that the project is not delayed unnecessarily.

This submission will involve a detailed proposal which reflects the sensitivity and complexity of the development. Each project should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Granting of permission is usually accompanied by a series of conditions, which must be adhered to and met, as part of the legal agreement.

When planning an artificial turf field with non-organic infills, ensure that infill containment measures are put in place to minimise and eliminate migration of infill outside of the area of the pitch. Regulation 22 insists that CENTR 17519 is used to assess the effectiveness of these measures.

Planning delivery

A successful development or upgrading project will only occur if the project is planned and executed effectively. As part of the procurement and pitch development process, there are four key stages:

  • design
  • tendering
  • contractor appointment
  • site development. 

All stages are equally important in the successful delivery of the project. The overall responsibility for the delivery of the project from concept to completion often falls to a volunteer member or an appointed project manager. The project manager takes on the responsibility for the delivery of the project and the processes associated with it. These processes can be categorised as follows:

  • The project terms of reference
  • Project plan
    • timelines
    • design team 
    • resources
    • funding
  • Communication of the project plan
  • Agree and delegate project actions
  • Procurement and contractor appointment
  • Review progress, monitor and review the project plan
  • Project completion – commissioning and handover.

Project terms of reference

The terms of reference are an accurate description of what the project aims to achieve. These terms help to create the expectations for anyone wishing to assess or review the project during development or its success upon completion. Properly formulated terms of reference help to protect the project manager from being held to account for issues that are outside the original scope of the project or beyond the project manager’s control.

Project plan

The various stages and activities of the project should be carefully planned. Complex projects will have several activities running in parallel and some parts of the project will require other parts to be completed before they can begin. Planning is essential if a project is to be delivered on budget and on time. Pitch development is weather dependent so timescales should be realistic. 

A sensible plan regarding budgets and timescales can reduce problems during the project. Gantt charts and critical path analysis are two common tools used for detailed project scheduling, costing, budgeting and reporting. The design team members required for the project will depend upon its complexity. These may include planning, architects, mechanical and electrical engineers, civil engineers, ecologists and agronomists. Team members should be selected for their experience on similar projects and ability to work together as a team.

Contingencies should be allowed for within the overall project plan. These should be identified at the feasibility stage of the project and discussed to identify the best course of action as issues arise.

Communicating the project plan

The successful delivery of the project involves the “buy in” of all members of the design team as well as the stakeholders and you, the client. It is essential that the project plan is discussed and communicated to all those with a vested interest in the project. Failing to communicate to people (who might have no great input, but whose co-operation is crucial) is a common reason for a project not running smoothly. This should include owners of neighbouring sites that will likely be affected by the work.

Agree and delegate project actions for competitive tendering

The plan will have identified those members of the design team responsible for each activity relevant to the project. Each team member should be clearly identified as responsible for one or more of the processes involved in the development of the tender pack for the competitive tendering process. It is important that there is awareness among all team members in large complex projects of each member’s role and activity to avoid duplication.

One of the main elements for successful project delivery is the production of the tender pack. The tender pack would comprise the following:

  • Instructions for tendering
  • Contract conditions
  • Quality assurance requirements
  • Detailed specification of work
  • Contract drawings
  • Bills of quantity

Selecting a contractor or contractors

The project manager usually takes responsibility for the procurement processes. This entails liaison with the client to ascertain the most appropriate action for the appointment of a suitable contractor and the form of contract that may be used.

A pre-qualification questionnaire may be used to create a list of contractors who would then be asked to tender for the work. Such procedures add complexity to the project and may be unnecessary where the works are of a straightforward nature. Contractors are asked to tender in accordance with the instructions to tender issued with the tender pack.

Members of the design team may be invited to review the submissions and comment on any aspect of the tender applicable to their specialist area. It is normal practice to ask each of the contractors to an interview to review their submission. This provides an opportunity for the project manager and client to discuss the complexity of the project with each contractor. Following the review processes, the project manager will make a recommendation to you regarding the appointment of one of the contractors who has tendered for the project.

Review, progress, monitor the project plan

The project manager should ensure that the appointed contractor can meet all statutory obligations under any national and regional legislation relevant to the project, particularly health and safety.

Before beginning the project, the contractor should prepare a detailed project plan. This should be cross-referenced against the design team’s project plan. Any discrepancies should be discussed, and a construction project plan agreed. The construction project plan is used to review performance regularly and adjusted as necessary considering performance, weather, and new information on a timeline. 

The club representatives should meet with the project manager regularly to monitor this progress and to advise the project manager accordingly. 

Design team members should be used to review works on the ground and highlight any concerns over progress or quality of workmanship. There should be adequate quality control measures in place to ensure that the facility is constructed in accordance with the design specification. 

In pitch construction, problems need to be identified as early as possible to minimise the risk to the success of the final construction.

Alternative procurement arrangement – design and build

This option may appear attractive, in that the contractor is solely responsible for both the design and the construction of the pitch and the pitch development may be initiated quickly. Nonetheless, there are several complications to this approach.

An independent consultant should prepare a design brief with a set of standards to be achieved. They should then prepare the pre-qualification documentation and make a recommendation on the most suitable contractor to approach as part of the design and build process.

There may be a tendency for the cheapest tender option to be chosen but this may not be appropriate for the site or the client’s needs. An independent approach can ensure that the most cost-effective solution is delivered which is in the best interests of the client rather than the contractor. The contractor should provide alternative methods for consideration. The alternatives that meet the design brief, could provide a saving on the project, and therefore are worthy of consideration.

During the works there will be no, or limited, quality control procedures in place under design and build, unless an independent project manager is retained to check the installation against the design brief and perform quality control. 

Project delivery

Most projects have as part of the contract a defects liability period, during which time the contractor must put right any defects that may have arisen because of poor workmanship. These should be listed and identified, with the contractor agreeing to rectify the defects within the stated timeframe.

At the conclusion of the successful project, a review meeting should be held to objectively reflect on any successes, failures, or mistakes. The project manager should formulate a report with observations and recommendations about follow up issues and priorities.

It is important that those responsible for the maintenance of the facility are properly trained in equipment use or aftercare.