Ball games back in business after survey nets big response

North Lanarkshire Council is to remove No Ball Games signs in an effort to improve children’s health and fitness.

The move has been welcomed by former Celtic and Morton footballer Andy Ritchie who grew up in the area.

The council will start taking down signs from open grass spaces and other public areas – at a point where hopefully the better weather will come into play.

Council bosses says there was overwhelming support for the idea. This was after nearly 1,400 people responded to a survey which was flagged up in this newspaper.

More than 300 of those identified locations where signs could be removed.

North Lanarkshire has produced some wonderful, inspirational footballers down the years – that countless youngsters could learn from.

These include Lisbon Lions Jimmy Johnstone and Billy McNeill and double European Cup winner John Robertson who starred for Nottingham Forest in the 70s.

Ritchie, now 63, was raised in Bellshill.

He scored 133 goals for Morton.

And he firmly believes playing football every day in the street with his pals prepared him for a top flight career.

He said: “Today’s kids are into healthy eating, but physical exercise is most important too.

“It’s not just about training with your team two nights a week. We had 40-50 lads playing football under the street lights outside my home in Bellshill when I was growing up.

“We played for hours at a time. That’s where I learned my skills. I would never have made it in football without that background.

“These days you need a direct debit to play organised football so I welcome anything that encourages kids to have more unscheduled playing time.”

In a report to councillors, Nicole Paterson, head of environmental assets, said signs have been put up over the years at locations including roads, open spaces, ends of buildings and lock-up garages.

The notices were meant to help tackle anti-social issues, within North Lanarkshire’s neighbourhoods but in fact have no legal standing.

There were no records kept of where signs were put up, meaning the council has no idea exactly how many there are.

On the recent survey, Ms Paterson explained: “There was considerable support for the wholesale removal of No Ball Games signs, though a proportion of people thought it appropriate to provide signs for safety and other reasons.

“It’s proposed that the signs highlighted in the consultation are removed and that removal of other signs is carried out on request.”

The authority says this will “allow more opportunities for children to have free outdoor play”.

“This means that the signs in question will be taken down ‘unless there is an obvious health and safety reason for them to remain within this environment.”