Future of free-to-play tennis courts to be debated next week

Bedford Park Tennis courts. Image: LDRS
Roots and other vegetation have damaged playing surfaces of Bedford Park's tennis courts Image: Local Democracy Reporting Service

Bedford borough councillors will be debating a petition to “secure investment in Bedford Park tennis courts” next week (28 February).

But borough Lib Dems have accused the council’s Conservative administration of scrapping “free, turn-up-and-play tennis” before this debate can happen.

The petition, which was submitted by Lib Dem group leader, councillor Henry Vann, called on the council to find a way to secure investment in Bedford Park whilst “protecting access” to some free-to-use tennis courts.

It was submitted to Full Council on 7 February, but councillors were told on February 13 that the work to reduce the courts and refurbish those remaining will be going ahead.

Read: Free-to-use tennis courts heading for ‘double fault’ claim local councillors

In a statement, Cllr Vann (De Parys) said: “[The minority Conservative administration] can only be deliberately trying to start the works so that saving free tennis is impossible.

“They must stop, now.”

The council said it was agreed in March 2023 that Bedford Park tennis courts were to be reduced due to health and safety grounds,and to also protect the trees.

A council statement added: “The decision to accept the funding from the LTA for this work was agreed at the council’s executive in June 2023.

“The start date of the works was agreed with the contractors by council officers on Wednesday, 7 February, albeit discussions have been ongoing regarding compounds and making sure the users of the park and the Bedford Parkrun event are not significantly impacted by the works at the site.”

The Lib Dems could have “called in” the decision to reduce and refurbish the courts taken in June. This would have effectively “frozen” the decision until the relevant committee, or Full Council, had considered it further.

But they chose not to, and the group said at the time: “Not every decision should be called in as that can significantly delay funding.”

A council report published in June said the tennis courts were in a “poor condition” and based on the existing budget and without external grant funding, the conditions were “likely to remain or deteriorate further” resulting in court closures for safety reasons.

The LDRS asked the Lib Dems why its administration didn’t spend more on maintenance.

This was after the council had said that there wasn’t a specific budget for the courts and the recent annual maintenance was replacing tennis nets, and sweeping and spraying the courts for algae and moss.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “They were maintained and are popular, turn-up-and-play courts.”

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