Aquatic Centre bosses want discussions with Sunderland AFC over Stadium of Light parking issues
Visitors to Sunderland's flagship sports centre are hoping not to be shown a red card over parking.
The operators of Sunderland Aquatic Centre say they have asked for discussions with Sunderland AFC to discuss the issue.
Users of the centre can occupy parking spaces around the neighbouring Stadium of Light without trouble most days, with no dedicated car park for the venue.
But when Sunderland AFC plays games at the ground, club stewards turn away visitors to ensure football fans who pay to park in the shadow of the stadium can access the spaces.
People are unable to park from midnight before the game until the midnight after, which means anyone who wants to visit the gym, pools, fitness classes or soft play on the morning or hours leading up to the game has to use public transport or find alternative parking.
A residents’ permit scheme is in operation around the ground and a time restriction at the nearby Tesco leaves areas around Sheepfolds, Roker, Monkwearmouth, Southwick and the city centre within walking distance to use.
A spokesman for Everyone Active, which runs the centre on behalf of Sunderland City Council, posted a statement about the situation on its Facebook page in the lead up to Tuesday’s game between the Black Cats and Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light.
It led parents to complain they find it difficult to reach the pool or has caused their child to missing lessons, while those who go to its fitness lessons say they have been affected.
People have said it should have been given its own car park when it was opened by Sunderland City Council almost a decade ago.
The statement said: “With regards the closure of the car parks on March 6, unfortunately the car parks sit outside our responsibility and are owned and managed by Sunderland AFC. “We have a contract with the club that states our customers are entitled to use the blue car park (first left at the Davey Lamp) on all days other than on match days and stadium special events between midnight and midnight.
“Previously the stewards would allow some unofficial access up to a certain time on match days before closing the car parks officially.
“We have spoken to the Sunderland AFC security office today and they have informed us that due to a significant number of incidents on recent match days where people have parked in the spaces early and not returned until after the match, customers who pay an annual fee for these spaces on match days have been turned away.
“So in order to stop this happening they have taken the decision to enforce the midnight to midnight rule from today onwards.
“We have requested a meeting with the football club to discuss this matter further.”
A club spokesperson said: “In line with its operating procedures for all home matches, Sunderland AFC locks down carparks to ensure match day guests, media, club staff and emergency services access the stadium, ensuring the club complies with the requirements of its safety certificate.
“This is not a new policy and is essential to ensure the smooth running of match day operations.
“The club ensured that local stakeholders were reminded of this policy on Monday.”