Tennis fans in Plumstead are challenging Greenwich Council’s plans to charge £3 to use their local courts – saying they were promised a consultation on the issue.
Last month the council said it would be refurbishing some of its tennis courts with a £300,000 grant from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), but would be introducing charges at five of them – a story first reported on this website.
The policy was launched at a photocall with Roger Federer, the eight-time Wimbledon champion, who unveiled revamped courts in Bostall Gardens, Abbey Wood, at an event earlier this month.
A £3 pay-and-pay charge will be put in place at Altash Gardens, Bostall Gardens, Kidbrooke Green Park, Maryon Park and Plumstead Common. Players can buy a £30 annual household season ticket that covers up to two courts, while those on mean-tested benefits will be able to get free passes.
But the Friends of Plumstead Common has challenged the plans to charge after first reading about them on this website. It says the council had promised a consultation if it planned to levy a fee.
The Friends group also says that the council failed to consider a proposal by a voluntary organisation which has held events at the court, Hood Tennis, to take on the facility itself.
Local Labour councillor Adel Khaireh, who is also the cabinet member in charge of the sports facilities, had pledged in an email to Alison Miller, of the Friends group, last November: “Any future proposals for all sites, regarding floodlighting, fees and charges, and free play will undergo full consultation with local residents, community groups and users.”
But this did not happen, and at the end of April he praised the plan to revamp the tennis courts as the council’s cabinet nodded through the plans in less than two minutes.
“It’s going to be a thing that brings the community together to tackle mental and physical health,” he said. The charges were not mentioned by Khaireh or Anthony Okereke, the council leader.
Miller told 853: “The public tennis courts on Plumstead Common is where a thriving community tennis club, Hood Tennis, provides access to the game for local Plumstead people. It’s a delight to see so many local, young kids enjoying tennis. Under Greenwich Council’s plans this is under threat.
“Where court fees have been introduced in other parts of the borough, the tennis courts became largely unused. Plumstead contains much social deprivation and when many of us are being impacted by the cost of living crisis, it just doesn’t add up.”
While the revamp to the courts has been funded by the LTA, the tennis body only specifies that councils have a long-term plan to keep the courts maintained – it does not demand that councils charge for the courts.
However, other councils that have accepted LTA grants have decided to charge more. In Lewisham, a £5/hour fee led to a petition against the proposals, while similar plans have led to protests in cities across the country. In Gloucester, an LTA scheme was scrapped last year and the council opted for a cheaper refurbishment instead.
Miller said the council should “do what they said they’d do” and consult on the proposal.
“The council failed to consult or have any interaction with Hood Group or any other group including Friends of Plumstead Common, before they made decisions about the costs and the management of the courts,” she said.
“If the council are now saying that they want to consult with the community, the current Hood proposals must be included in the full consultation options, which then should be put to all of us in the Plumstead community.”
The Friends group has used a little-known procedure called the “community right to challenge” to force the council to look at including the Hood Tennis proposal in a consultation.
Council officials have refused to take a question from Miller about the issue at this week’s council meeting, with a letter signed by the council’s chief executive, Debbie Warren, claiming that the issue was due to be heard in court. However, it is her council that has to take a decision on the matter.
Asked by 853 about the challenge, the council said it was “unable to comment”.