CARMARTHENSHIRE county council plans to increase the amount it charges amateur sports teams to use its pitches by up to 2,000 per cent have been described as “little better than blackmail”.

The hike, approved by the council’s executive board, will see the cost of a cricket pitch soar from £28 per match to £590 by the 2016/17 season – a rise of 2,007 percent. Using rugby and football pitches will rise from £49 to £235.

The cost for children playing rugby goes from £23 to £95 per match and cricket from £18.50 to £110.

The rise comes as the local authority looks to eliminate the £265,000 annual costs of maintaining sports grounds, but many of the affected clubs claim the hike has been imposed to force them to take over the running of pitches as part of the council’s controversial “asset transfer” programme.

“This policy is little better than blackmail,” said one club official, who asked not to be named.

“Small clubs cannot possibly meet these costs so either we take over maintenance or fold because we have nowhere to play.

“That seems like blackmail to me.”

One rugby club official said: “Based on the figures it would be cheaper for us to play at Parc y Scarlets.”

Council leader councillor Kevin Madge said: “We want to assure everyone we fully support sport in Carmarthenshire at all levels. This decision is not intended to penalise anyone, rather it will make it fairer for all.

“Asset transfer essentially means that the council is giving the facilities free of charge to community-based clubs and organisations.

"The alternative to Asset Transfer would be for organisations to continue to hire facilities and services from the county council but pay the true cost of managing those facilities.”