Last night the Cabinet of Council voted to go ahead with proposed changes to the borough’s tennis courts – despite opposition concerns that the changes would negatively impact vulnerable users.
The proposals seek grants to upgrade tennis courts at four parks in Windsor and Maidenhead – Kidwells Park, Desborough Park, Oaken Grove and Goswells Park/Alexandra Gardens.
The investment (potentially around £110,000) will be used to upgrade ten hard-surface courts where there is “identified demand and potential for improvement”.
The aim is to “bring the courts to a level that is worth playing”. It’s part of a national plan to get 1 million more people playing tennis across the country by 2024.
Work is expected to start in the fall, subject to finalization of the funding agreement with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).
“It may well encourage us to identify a Wimbledon champion at some point in the future,” Cllr Ross McWilliams, Cabinet Member for Sport and Recreation, told a cabinet meeting last night (Thursday).
But concerns have been raised about access-controlled entrance gates with an online reservation system.
Cllr Jon Davey (Ind, Clewer & Dedworth West) said he conducted a quick survey the day before Cabinet and received 40 responses – 90 per cent of which were “not enthusiastic” about the change.
“It keeps people away who would otherwise use the facilities,” Cllr Davey said.
“There are two professional clubs in Windsor where you pay an annual membership. The courts in the city center are for people who want to play tennis randomly.
Cllr Davey questioned the wisdom of rushing to pursue a ‘third party’ funding opportunity with ‘a program’ in an attempt to fund renovations.
“Why didn’t we save money to renovate [ourselves] – why do we seek alms? ” He asked.
“It has linked us to the LTA for 15 years and we still have to manage [the courts].”
He added that “proper consultation” was needed and urged the borough to seek different funding options, through local businesses instead.
“Don’t make it happen just because it’s convenient – let’s see what people want,” he said.
Cllr Donna Stimson (Con, St Mary’s) replied: “It’s not a tennis group trying to take advantage of certain courts. The LTA is the national governing body for tennis, it is the largest tennis association in the UK.
“They know the best practices and we are, I think, very privileged to have this group come to help with these courts.”
“There are almost only good things in the program.”
The LTA’s Mike Piggford told the council that similar facilities in Reading and Wokingham showed controlled-access gates actually increased usage.
He added that if the Royal Borough don’t seize this opportunity now, there may not be another.
Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Sunninghill) felt the ability to reserve land can encourage more people to visit because they know they have a niche, rather than showing up and being disappointed.
As such, Cllr McWilliams was adamant that the changes were “welcoming people, not excluding them”.
He said there was a need for borough-run courts to operate at “reasonable prices” as alternatives to professional clubs.
Cllr McWilliams also pointed to the increase in programs and free programs for those who may struggle to pay – refuting councilors’ concerns that the borough’s most vulnerable could be left without facilities.
The cabinet also pointed out that the improved facilities would make it easier to accommodate wheelchair tennis – and “preserve” or “create” more accessibility for residents with disabilities.
The improvements could also bring the ability to control what times floodlights are on during the darker months, causing less disruption to neighbours.
Cllr Hilton noted that the council would take on “a small maintenance responsibility” for the courts, although the cost of this was not included in the report presented to the cabinet.
Cabinet voted unanimously in favor of the officers’ report’s recommendation to continue discussions with the LTA to secure funding to improve tennis court facilities.