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Can I use Active Places to understand the change in sports facility provision over time?

(Last Update: 22/02/2023)

Active Places represents the current provision of sports facilities. This aligns with the primary use case of the database as a strategic planning tool. Given this focus, on the current provision of sports facilities, the analysis of trends over time, particularly facility counts, should to be treated with a high level of caution and is not recommended. Further investigation to understand the circumstances which may influence any trends observed is required. Active Places data considerations are outlined below. These do not consider wider influencing factors that should also be investigated.

a) Snapshots

Snapshots of the Active Places database, where held, should be used solely for backup purposes. Snapshots are not appropriate for temporal analysis as:

Sport England and our data partners continue to add facilities, irrespective of their build year to the dataset. These “found” facilities would not be represented in a historic cut, even though they were open at that time.

The data model has changed over time introducing new facility types/subtypes and changing the way some facilities are recorded.


b) Approximating temporal change from the database

No sites/facilities are deleted from Active Places. Sites/facilities are closed or in the case of grass pitches identified as “Not Currently Marked Out”.

Active Places facilities each have a “Build Year”.

These “temporal” attributes can, in some use cases, support an estimation of the change in facility provision over time.

The approach, which should use the most current version of the database, assumes that facility supply in any given year can be estimated by considering those facilities with a “Build Year” prior to that year and a “Closed Year” (if applicable) after that year.


Where using “Build Year” and “Closure Year” to estimate change over time, it is important to remember:

Active Places is updated via an annual audit cycle as a result, it can take up to 1-year to identify site/facilities closures. Recent change will have a high degree of uncertainty and should be treated with caution.

The “Build Year” for a facility may be estimated. This is indicated by a flag in the database.

Closed sites/facilities may reopen. The “Closure Reason” is a good indicator of whether a site/facility is being replaced.

The approach does not consider temporary closures, for example, a facility currently operational may have been temporarily closed, due to refurbishment, in earlier time periods.

Sites/facilities which were closed prior to the establishment, and routine collection of facility data, by Active Places will not be included in the database.

Site/facilities have been added to Active Places over time. Facilities added to the platform most recently will not have the same temporal depth.

The appropriate time-period for any temporal analysis of Active Places data is a function of when that facility type was added to the database and the completeness of the dataset that was added for that facility type.

Some facility definition and attributes have changed over time this may result in temporal inconsistencies.

Facility counts should not be used where there is a one-to-many relationship between the facility and the number of courts, pitches or rinks.

Facility, court, pitch or rink counts should not be considered in isolation. Other attributes which describe the size or type of facility may be applicable.


The approach outlined above is most appropriate for built facilities. It cannot be used to estimate changes in the provision of grass pitches over time as:

“Build Year” is known to be missing and/or to contain high levels of uncertainty for grass pitches.

The pitch configuration detailed in Active Places reflects the current markings. These markings may not represent those at any earlier time period.

Pitch types identified as “Not currently marked out” may have been operational in earlier time periods. Active Places does not identify when a pitch configuration was changed, and pitches of a given size no longer marked out at a site.

Active Places does not include information on the change in pitch configuration at a site over time (i.e. an increase/decrease in the count of adult football pitches).

Active Places does not include information on the relationship between pitches. For example,

      ▪ Adult grass pitch provision may decrease to allow for the marking of multiple junior grass pitches or rugby pitches

      ▪ Junior grass pitch provision may increase due to an increase in overmarking on adult pitches.

      ▪ Grass pitch provision may decrease to enable the creation of an Artificial Grass Pitch at the site.

In conclusion, while the most recent version of the database can be used to approximate a temporal analysis, this is applicable only for a subset of facility types. As with all analysis based on the Active Places data, it is important to understand the data model and key attributes (i.e. Facility Status, Ownership, Access), but to also carefully consider the caveats stated above.