Council defends ‘pay-to-play’ tennis agreement

Bedford Park tennis courts: before and after the refurbishment Image: before/LDRS after/Bedford Borough Council.
Bedford Park tennis courts: before and after the refurbishment Image: before/LDRS after/Bedford Borough Council.

A senior Bedford borough councillor said the council won’t put residents’ “hard-earned” money at risk by breaking the pay-to-play agreement which funded the recent refurbishment of borough tennis courts.

During last night’s Executive Meeting (19 June), councillor Colleen Atkins (Labour, Harpur) said there had been over 70 “really negative comments” online about the new charges.

“Councillor Layne and I have raised our concerns in Full Council, and we’ve also had a meeting with Paul Pace [the council’s head of environment] and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).

“And I thank them for their time in trying to explain it, but we’re still not convinced that it will work.

“Do you regret your decision to accept the money for the refurbishment as so many people can’t afford to pay for [access]?” she asked the Executive.

Councillor Jim Weir (Conservative, Great Denham), the deputy mayor, said: “The previous administration in December 2022 gave the go ahead for the LTA funding, I have an email from the former mayor to Paul Pace saying so.

“He did, to be fair, make a reference asking if Paul could speak to the LTA and try to persuade them for more free tennis.

“And we’ve got some free tennis. We ratified that in June [last year] and it was there for everybody to see, it was an executive decision.

“It wasn’t called in [by councillors], and I know there’s been a petition.

”But I can confirm that if we were to offer free tennis and go away from the terms and conditions that were agreed with the LTA, they would want the £400,000 back.

“To protect our taxpayers’ hard-earned money we are not going to give [the LTA] the money back and we’re going to continue with the processes as it is,” he said.

Councillor Weir said on Tuesday morning there were 44 bookings, and 22 people have already bought annual passes.

“So there is an interest out there for better tennis and more professional courts for people to play on,” he said.

Councillor Atkins asked if there was any scope to reduce the cost per hour.

Councillor Weir said: “I don’t think there is, I think that’s a set figure nationally, but I can ask the question, but I doubt it very much.”

Councillor Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe) said: “Whilst there were discussions about this money [by the former administration] there was uncomfortableness and unhappiness about the reduction in free tennis.

“We did not, and we would not have agreed to a reduction in free tennis.

“There’d been discussions, but we were not happy with the outcome of those discussions,” he said.

Councillor Martin Towler (Conservative, Riseley) asked: “If we hadn’t taken this money to do up the courts, what state would they be in, and how would we have got on with them?”

Councillor Weir replied: “They were in a pretty awful state and quite a lot of them couldn’t [have been kept open] without some remedial work via some spend from the council.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter