A last-ditch effort to save a much-loved golf course and “vital” tennis courts once used by Emma Raducanu has been made.
Wirral Council must agree to a budget that saves £20m tonight.
The council’s plan calls for a 12-month closure of the Wirral Tennis Center and a permanent reduction in the number of indoor tennis courts thereafter, as well as the end of the Woodchurch Leisure Centre, nine libraries, two golf and more.
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But an amendment will be presented to councilors at a crucial meeting tonight, asking them to reject plans for the Bidston Tennis Center and Brackenwood Golf Course in Bebington.
The move, which is expected to be proposed by the Liberal Democrats, will give the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) until the end of March 2023 to come up with a plan that will see all six courts remain open without the council needing to subsidize them as it makes currently.
It would also keep Brackenwood open until September 30 while attempts to save it are made, rather than April 1, which could be crucial for its survival given the popularity of golf in the summer months.
The Lib Dems believe the move would cost the council £55,000 of the £328,000 it estimates is saved by closing two public golf courses. This does not change the future of Hoylake Municipal, which is still due to close on April 1.
Cllr Allan Brame, who represents Oxton for the Lib Dems, said: “The Bidston Tennis Center has been built, then upgraded, with substantial financial support from the LTA. It provides the only indoor tennis facility in Wirral and its six courts enable it to host major tennis tournaments.
“The LTA is confident that it can produce an alternative management model that will remove the grant the council currently provides to run the centre.
“We are proposing that the April 1 closure plans be put on hold to give the LTA time to prove that their plans are viable. It would also save the City Council £2.5m which it plans to spend on remodeling the building.
The Liberal Democrats may only have six of Wirral’s 66 councilors, but the council has no overall control, meaning parties must work together to push their plans through and opposition parties can make pass motions.
Currently, the six courts of the Wirral Tennis Center host competitions. US Open women’s champion Emma Raducanu was among those who competed at the center.
Council documents reveal that the temporary closure would allow for an upgrade and that an independent consultant said the current facilities at the site do not complement local needs and demographics.
The three planned tennis courts will be replaced with an “expanded” soft play and gymnastics offering under the plan.
In addition to this, a second 3G astroturf football pitch would be built off site as part of a funding partnership between the Football Foundation and the council.
The council estimates the plan will save it £114,000.
But the LTA, which governs the sport in Britain, has written to the Wirral Council asking it to put any decision on the future of the center on hold to allow them in and to help the council draw up plans to make the financially viable center.
An LTA spokesperson said: “We are confident that the Wirral Tennis Center can become sustainable and profitable in the long term. We would like to offer our assistance to the board as it develops plans for the future of the centre.
“I hope that by working together we can avoid the closure of the center and the loss of vital indoor tennis facilities.”
As for the Brackenwood golf course, it is understood there are bidders interested in saving it.
Keeping the course open until September under the control of the council would give the course a much better chance of staying open in the long term.
Keith Marsh, Brackenwood club secretary, said: “With a library you can close it and do some maintenance and cleaning and reopen it.
“But if the council closes the golf course in April and doesn’t do any maintenance it will go to shambles.”
The figures show how important the summer season is for the golf course.
Mr Marsh added: “The course generates 78% of its revenue from April to September, so any potential new operator would be less likely to take it over in September, putting the course in serious danger.
“We need continuity of service, otherwise the course would close after 87 years.”
The good news for Brackenwood is that there are bidders interested in taking over the course on a licensing deal, including one who is known to have taken on golf courses that were once run by a local council and run them with success.
On the matter of the Wirral Tennis Center and Brackenwood Golf Course, a spokesperson for the Wirral Council said: “This matter forms part of the proposals for the 2022/23 budget and no decision has yet been taken.”
You can give your opinion on the proposals, here and here.